I doubt any of us feels wistful about putting 2020 behind us and ushering in a new year. As 2021 begins, with a vaccine in sight, guarded optimism about a return to some semblance of normalcy and perhaps long-awaited action on a range of pressing societal issues, I must admit I am feeling a bit renewed and hopeful. I hope you are too.
A year marked by COVID-19, unconscionable killings of unarmed Black citizens and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, horrific wildfires tied to a warming climate and an unsettling, deeply divisive national election was also a year of multiple awakenings.
COVID-19, believed to have originated from a bat at a Chinese wet market, has reminded us of our connection to the natural world and the critical importance of biodiversity, not to mention the critical importance of medicine and science. Wildfires in the American West have aroused even ardent skeptics to the real and growing dangers of a changing climate. In our field, investors have begun awakening to the reality that companies with strong ESG practices tend to be higher performing, more resilient companies that are better positioned to withstand the volatility of unpredictable markets.
“Investors have begun awakening to the reality that companies with strong ESG practices tend to be higher performing, more resilient companies that are better positioned to withstand the volatility of unpredictable markets.”
That said, despite all our efforts to advance diversity and equality in capital markets, and after decades of often glacial but steady progress, 2020 saw hundreds of thousands of women leave or lose their jobs. In September alone, more than 865,000 women left the workforce largely due to increased demands at home brought on by COVID-19. There is also no doubt that communities of color have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
We have much work to do.
A more hopeful signal: The Biden White House is shaping up to be the most diverse in our nation’s history.
Another hopeful sign: President-elect Biden’s early pronouncements on climate change, including the appointment of former U.S. Senator John Kerry to lead climate policies from the White House, demonstrate that the new administration means business. We can hope that this also portends the early reversal of some of the most damaging rollbacks of environmental regulations wrought during the Trump years.
We expect the Biden administration’s policies on climate as well as pandemic relief and infrastructure to bring a boost to sustainable investing. Already, groups including US SIF and Ceres have proffered plans for how the new administration can address sustainable finance in capital markets. We also believe markets will react favorably to some of the Biden administration’s domestic initiatives as well as to the restoration of our global alliances.
ESG funds have begun to see record inflows, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is because investors want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem; they want to invest in a more sustainable future.
Still, there will be much more to restore, repair and rethink in the new year. But that’s what our industry does best. After all, the earliest sustainable investors imagined a world without slavery, war or Apartheid and created investments to address those challenges. Now is a good time to hearken that legacy and renew our commitment to the great responsibilities we gladly shoulder and the great opportunities before us. Our task is nothing less than to reshape capital markets to usher in a more sustainable and equitable economy. Let’s get on with it.
I hope that 2021 brings relief to you and the millions among us whose lives have been permanently altered this year. And I know you join me in looking forward to brighter days ahead.
 Avie Schneider, Andrea Hsu and Scott Horsley, “Multiple Demands Causing Women To Abandon Workforce,” NPR, Oct. 2, 2020.
 Amy Whyte, “U.S. Investors Are Getting Serious About ESG. This Year’s Fund Flows Prove It,” Financial Times, Oct. 29, 2020.
The statements and opinions expressed are those of the authors as of the date of this report. All information is historical and not indicative of future results and subject to change. This information is not a recommendation to buy or sell any security. Past performance does not guarantee future results.