Tech Ethics Bristol – Feat. Sophie Lawrence, Rathbone Greenbank Investments

As part of the ‘Tech Ethics Bristol’ events series, we caught up with Sophie Lawrence, Senior Ethical, Sustainable & Impact Researcher at Rathbone Greenbank Investments.

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 Sophie at Rathbone Greenbank Investments.

In this context, we have interviewed Sophie 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…

I joined Rathbone Greenbank in January 2020 as a senior ethical, sustainable and impact researcher. I am responsible for managing engagement activities, assessing the social and environmental performance of companies and conducting ESG and impact reporting for clients. I started my career at Barclays Bank in 2013 and most recently spent three years prior to Greenbank at KKS Advisors, a strategy consultancy in London where I led a team specialising in sustainable and impact investment.

I hold an MSc from Imperial College London in Environmental Technology, specialising in Business and Environment and a BSc in Geographical Sciences from the University of Bristol. I am passionate about how we can use capital as a force for good for society and the wider environment. I am also an avid cyclist and foodie, so fit right in here in Bristol!

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

In general, ESG investing means that environmental, social and governance issues (both risks and opportunities) have been integrated into the investment process for assessing a stock or fund. But the challenge with the term ‘ESG investing’ is that it means different things to different investors. Close scrutiny of the investment approach is required to understand if it is making a difference or if it’s just relabelling a ‘business as usual’ approach as green – something often referred to as greenwashing.

There are different approaches that fall within the broad bucket of ’ESG investing’. These include: ‘responsible investment’, where the focus is on the mitigation of ESG risks; ‘sustainable investment’, where the focus is on pursuing ESG opportunities and identifying stocks which address particular social or environmental challenges; and ‘impact investment’, where the focus is on investing in opportunities that deliver measurable benefits for people and planet.

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

ESG investing has become mainstream in the last 3-5 years. Standards, regulations, and laws have all played a role in growing the market. For example, there are collectively over 255 regulations to improve the management of sustainability risks and increase sustainable capital flows, with the most applied regulations focused on disclosure of environmental issues. Another key shift has been a growing consensus and body of academic literature that shows that integrating ESG factors into investment decision-making does not harm long-term returns.

ADLIB: Why does ESG Investing matter?

I don’t think you need to look any further than the $4.2 trillion annual financing gap between current global flows of finance and the level of investment we need if we are to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

ADLIB: Why does this interest you?

I have been interested in environmental issues from as early as I can remember and was marching on London streets demanding action on climate change and setting up a Green team at school in the early 2000s! Back then, despite having compelling evidence from the likes of the IPCC for the need for action, there wasn’t the same level of awareness of the urgency for action as there is now. After 3 years in finance after university I felt compelled to enter the sustainability sector and try and align my career with my passion. I went back to university to do an MSc, specialising in Business and Environment.

We spent the year picking apart what it meant for a business to be ‘sustainable’, and to question whether that was even a realistic goal. Having initially turned my back on finance, I quickly realised how crucial the capital markets are if humanity is collectively going to solve some of the complex sustainable development challenges we are facing. The idea of finding companies that are going to enable the energy transition or a shift to a circular economy, or using our shareholder voice to drive change on environmental and social issues, is what drives me in my role.

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

There is a risk of ‘greenwashing’ and ‘impact washing’ in this industry, and we are already seeing cases of this unfold. There is a need to build consensus on how to measure, assess and report impacts on environmental and social issues in a consistent way, to bring further credibility to ESG investing. The Impact Management Project, a practitioner community of over 2,000 organisations including Greenbank, has gone some way in doing this. It has created a framework for categorising the impact of investments and investors. The EU taxonomy for sustainable activities is also a key contribution, as it will establish clear and detailed definitions for which business activities can be counted as ‘sustainable’, creating a common language for all actors in the financial system. There is no doubt that it is an exciting time for investors and businesses who are investing with sustainability at the heart of what they do and it is important for people to understand what is happening in the fast- evolving ESG investment space.

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 .Technology Ethics Bristol is brought to you by Collective Intelligence and ADLIB.

Written by

Head of Data

Insight & Analytics

View profile

Alex Cosgrove