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What hasn't Goldman Sachs learned that Sustainable Finance has?

Robert Rubinstein, Founder and CEO of Triple Bottom Line Group, has, for the past 15 years, been trying to convince the financial sector to adopt ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles to earn money while not making things worse.

In his colorful speech illustrated with videos and photos, he showed that economic growth through a business as usual approach that follows a linear growth in a resource-constrained world might be impossible.*

To sustain development, it is imperative to improve efficiencies. Unless we pursue this objective, we are bound for global resource conflicts: "we need less hunters and more farmers," he said. There is a lack of leadership in dealing with the real issues noting that the last big oil field discovery was the North Sea and that water is becoming increasingly scarce.

To get the financial sector's buy in, it needs to see "what's in it for them." The main drivers are self-interest opportunity, money flows and ... pain (or managing risks).

One of the main issues is that markets are not a level playing field and that several products do not reflect their true cost, for instance because of subsidies.

Mr Rubinstein also stressed that belief is more important than proof. As long as the few key decision-makers within financial industry are not committed the situation will not improve, even if it is relatively easy for finance to move its capital.

A real obstacle comes in fact from industry where many stranded assets, especially in industries like cement, chemicals or steel, are difficult to write off.

The organizer of the TBLI conferences told the audience that the main values underlying socially responsible investment were transparency, accountability and openness. These should not be perceived as a hindrance to business. Quoting French philosopher, Albert Camus, he said that "integrity has no need of rules".

SRI has gained prominence over the past ten years. It still has great strides to make but, even from a purely profit-making perspective, this is where the future lies.

Regarding Goldman Sachs, they are still in conventional territory. For instance, their traders as well as the media are all obsessed with what the Dow Jones did today: is it up? Is it down? But more and more, no-one looks at that in the SRI investment community: it would be like watching the scoreboard while playing basketball!