Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of hearing President Barack Obama as he visited our wonderful city of Montreal, Canada. It was his role as the former President of the United States of America that enticed me to attend, but in listening to him speak I realized we had a lot in common.
President Obama and I both share the view that capitalism is the right mechanism to help deal with some of the major environmental and social issues of our time – issues like climate change, water scarcity, mass migrations, to name a few. He, too, highlighted that the pendulum of capitalism’s focus may have swung a bit too far and that we, as investors, need to look beyond simply returns.
Obama pointed out that the world is currently in a major transition, something that has not been seen since the economic shift from agriculture to industry in the 1930s. Accelerating changes in technology are moving us towards artificial intelligence, with robots destroying many of our livelihoods. Climate change will also be a major disruptor for businesses and people – we’re already beginning to see it.
These disruptions have traditionally affected mainly blue-collar jobs, but they are increasingly threatening white-collar jobs as well – with major repercussions for the middle class – widening the gap between rich and poor… and leading to the groundswell of populism that we have all witnessed, in the hope that politicians will “save the day”.
Obama talked about the US Administration’s decision to step away from the Paris climate accord – and how, in his mind, US businesses already understand the value of embracing environmental issues, because it’s simply just good for business. He mentioned not envisioning a world where Walmart would backtrack on its efforts to move to 100% renewable energy. Why? Because by embracing these technologies and pushing the same through its supply chains, Walmart is actually saving money.
I share the same view. Investors are increasingly analyzing environmental, social, and governance issues because they, too, believe companies that are addressing issues like climate change or water scarcity, or the multitude of other issues that are material to their operations, are doing so because it’s just good business. There are costs to be saved and there is value to be created by managing these issues and acting accordingly.
I actually wonder if Trump might have done the world a big favour! As important as the Paris Agreement is, it’s viewed by many as a government-led agenda. In the last week, we’ve seen business after business in the US reiterate their commitment to reducing their carbon emissions. We’ve seen the State of California sign an agreement with China to accelerate the deployment of clean technologies, clearly indicating that it’s ready to move forward with or without the federal government’s support. And we’ve seen the State of Hawaii sign two bills declaring its commitment to the Paris Agreement. This tells me that businesses and local governments see the treat to their bottom line and they’re not going to let the federal government prevent them from staying competitive. From my vantage point, if there’s one place in the world that exemplifies the power and influence of business, it’s the United States of America.
I firmly believe that smart US business leaders already know that a major disruption is afoot. Now I’m a country girl, and here’s something else Obama and I would agree on: when it comes to businesses dealing with issues related to climate change, there is no turning back – this horse has left the stable.