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Tech Ethics Bristol – Feat. Hannah Duncan, Award-winning financial journalist

As part of the ‘Tech Ethics Bristol’ events series, we caught up with Hannah Duncan, Award-winning financial journalist.

Technology is deeply embedded in our society, redefining our social interactions, healthcare, education, public policy, jobs and every aspect of our lives.

The use of data, AI and emerging technologies bring new benefits, but also challenges and ethical concerns about the social implication and potential unintended consequences these technologies can have in our society.

Alongside this,  there has been a significant increase in interest in ethical investing, both from an investor and business perspective. 

As it seems clear that ESG and ethical investments have become a hot topic, we decided to put together an event to debunk some myths and empower people to make decisions with a positive impact.

We’ve got some great speakers lined up for this event including Hannah Duncan, Award-winning financial journalist.

In this context, we have interviewed Hannah Duncan, an award-winning financial journalist ahead of her talk at the upcoming Tech Ethics Bristol –The Rise of Ethical Investing Meetup on 28th April at 6pm at Framework Coworking space in Bristol.

ADLIB: Please tell us about yourself…

Sure! I’m an ex-wealth management person, and now a liberated freelance writer. I spend my time writing articles about sustainable finance – and mostly where we’re going wrong. Greenwashing is the new 2008 ratings scandal. It has all the same ingredients, but unprecedented danger. It’s my life’s mission to expose greenwashing in the investment industry and help others invest their money in GENUINE sustainability. 

ADLIB: What’s your take on the current Ethical Investment landscape?

“Ethical” is an interesting word because it’s so subjective. And honestly, I’d say that’s more or less where we are at in the investment landscape. For years giant corporations have been labelling themselves as “green” or “ethical” for any old reason, and only now we’re beginning to see what’s really going on. 

The EU Commission has gone to great and painful lengths to add some sort of consistency to the term. But – so far – the best effort was a soft law taxonomy for the term “sustainable” in finance. While it’s definitely a start, it’s certainly not enough. And for every step forward in the carbon markets, or towards the EU’s green deal, there’s always a billion-dollar corporation or oil-loving politician standing in the way making things difficult. Right now, we are at a deadly inflection point. I hope that we will soon have the right people in charge to take this climate chaos seriously. 

ADLIB: How do you think the perception of ESG has changed over the past few years?

Mmmm… Not a lot to be honest. The term is leading a double life. Many people perceive that ESG companies must be good for the Environment, Society AND Corporate governance. They see that a company has been marked as “ESG” by an expert and that’s good enough. Many people won’t even check the holdings before they invest in an ESG fund. Sometimes you can’t even FIND the holdings in an ESG fund! People want to help, they invest their money in an ESG fund, then sleep easy. 

But there’s a dark side to ESG. Companies need to be good for the Environment, Society OR Corporate Governance. And the people deciding how “good” they are, are the ratings agencies. There are HUGE divergences between these agencies, they all measure in different ways and come up with incredibly different conclusions. MSCI, for example, considers McDonalds, BP and British American Tobacco to be excellent ESG companies. Across the board, sketchy companies are making the cut. Even BooHoo and H&M were considered sustainable, despite the shocking environmental degradation and fatal work conditions. 

It’s all way too subjective… And you can’t help but wonder if someone is lining their pockets along the way. 

ADLIB: Why does ESG/Ethical Investing matter? 

It doesn’t. What matters is genuinely sustainable investing, or better still, impact investing. 

A lot of ethical or ESG funds are just the same as any other fund… Literally! Around 300 were re-branded over 2020. They have almost identical holdings. I even found five “ESG” investments in Vice funds. (Vice funds are anti-ESG funds, self-proclaimed evil investments basically)

ADLIB: Why does this interest you? 

The moment I joined investment management, I felt like this world needed researching. It has so much potential, yet so many dark corners – especially when it comes to sustainable investing. 

While I worked in global wealth management firms, across several different countries, I also studied religiously. In 2020 I completed a Masters of Science in the art of marketing green investments and uncovered some fascinating yet disturbing findings. 

From there, I haven’t stopped. I even ditched the boss and started working for myself so that my work and blogs could always be 100% objective. There is nothing more interesting and urgent than sustainable investments. They are both the cause and solution to the destruction of our planet. 

ADLIB: What do you see as key future developments in this space? 

What a question!! Umm… Well I see civil unrest and protests rocketing. As scientists issue more “now or never” warnings, groups like Extinction Rebellion will come down hard on brands and governments who perpetuate the problem. 

Greenwashing is becoming a big word. As animal rights activists once threw red paint on people wearing fur, I imagine buckets of green paint will be chucked at banks and corporations. Brands are about to come under serious scrutiny, in ways they haven’t seen before. And (I hope) they will become embarrassed out of their bad behaviour. 

For example, all the big tech companies who take our ESG money and provide services for fossil fuel companies. All the banks who claim that they want to help the world, but actually pour billions drilling for oil. How H&M’s “conscious” collection actually contains more plastic than its normal range. All of these lies will surely be brought to light. I keep waiting to see it on the news. And I continue to write about it, to try to spread the word. 

ESG funds will continue to grow, they’re expected to hit $50 trillion by 2025. A third of all assets under management. It’s outrageous that they’re not really good for the environment, because the OECD found that we need $6.9 trillion invested in genuine sustainable development to meet our climate goals. If ratings agencies and brands were honest, we might have already solved the problem.

Thanks so much for your time and looking forward to seeing your talk on 28th April

Tech Ethics Bristol meetups are organised by a team of volunteers who are passionate about building a fair and equal society where technology is a catalyst for positive change.

Designing a better future is everyone’s responsibility and we want to create a space for the local and global community to discuss, learn and exchange ideas in an open and inclusive way.

We value a multidisciplinary approach and we welcome businesses, academics, students and people from diverse backgrounds and levels of expertise.

Our events will cover a variety of topics related to Technology and Ethics, including: Data and Privacy; Algorithmic Fairness; Ethical Investing, Democracy and Misinformation; Value; Alignment and Human Rights; AI Ethics and Governance; Value Sensitive Design; AI and Sustainability; Jobs and Automation; Accessibility.

Join the meetup group HERE

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