Beyond ESG: system solutions for sustainability

Lecture five

While sessions one to four presented a systems perspective of our sustainability challenge and responses to date, session five explores the implications for asset owners and asset managers and options for action. We have reached a pivotal moment in that an initially beneficial ‘win-win’ phase of sustainability shows signs of exhaustion in being unable to deliver more sustainable behaviour fast enough.

If market-led strategies are flagging, we must do what complex systems are structured to do and summon deeper changes. These are necessarily more costly and disruptive because they are things we had hoped we would not have to do in the first place. Specifically, we may need to go beyond ‘win-win’ strategies to contemplate ‘spend-to-win’ and ‘stop-doing-to-win’ strategies, which offer real possibilities, albeit at a cost.

As de facto figures of influence in a market-led system, private sector leaders could now be a critical ‘swing voice’ in articulating that policy leadership on sustainability may be difficult but is now necessary.


Full event recording


About the speaker

Duncan Austin has a degree in Economics and an MSc in Environmental Economics and has worked as a sustainability researcher and writer since 2019. He was a senior economist at World Resources Institute where he completed environmental economics research for both policy and private sector audiences. From 2004-2018 Duncan was an investment partner at Generation Investment Management; working as a private equity analyst for Global Equity Fund and being involved with selected private equity deals.

Duncan’s latest paper, Market-led sustainability is a fix that fails…but it may have been the necessary ‘defence at first depth’, explains why voluntary market-led strategies are insufficient. Instead, we must apply systems thinking to deliver deeper forms of change.

Session 5 slides
Beyond ESG | system solutions for sustainability
Summaries of sessions 1-4
2020 TABS
FoESG event
Planet hub
People hub
TPA hub 
The Power of Culture study

The hope was that achieving a sustainable economy might be an appealing ‘green growth’ story, but it increasingly appears to be the mother of all restructurings.

Duncan Austin