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The sustainability trends that are driving responsible investment

Date: 01 June 2021

Who is this article for?

Advisers who want to check their understanding of responsible investing.

Key takeaways

This article explains the sustainability trends that are driving responsible investment, as well as some risks and opportunities that they present for investors.

What is sustainability?

Governments and businesses are facing growing societal and political pressure to change the way they think about growth. Where they may have previously pursued only financial or economic goals, they're now expected to consider growth through the lens of sustainable development, which can be defined as:

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainable development

Sustainable development is underpinned by three goals: 

  1. environmental protection
  2. social progress 
  3. economic growth.

When tackling global issues, the aim is to manage these goals simultaneously, avoiding trade-offs. For example, economic progress should not be at the detriment of the environment or increasing inequalities.

Governments and organisations around the world use these criteria in their decision-making as they address some of the most pressing global issues, or 'megatrends', that we face today.


Global sustainability megatrends

Global megatrends such as population growth, aging societies, rapid economic growth, pressure on resources and urbanisation are the underlying drivers for sustainability, therefore increasing demand for responsible investment.

Your client may be motivated to respond to some of these issues to help make the world a better place, for themselves and for the next generation too. However, it's important to note that there are fundamental investment risks and opportunities associated with many of these trends too. Managing these risks and opportunities through responsible investment approaches can help protect and enhance financial returns. Here are a few examples:

Climate change

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, which contribute to climate change, are a by-product of a wide range of industries and the impacts are far-reaching too.

Investment risks Investment opportunities

In many countries, industries with high Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, such as energy, mining, petroleum and transportation industries, are affected by regulations dealing with GHG emissions.

Insurance and infrastructure industries are being impacted by adaptation policies in response to climate change. Meanwhile, agriculture, food, beverage companies and tourism industries are being affected by the weather-related impacts of climate change.

Companies offering innovative solutions such as carbon capture and storage systems, renewable energy and companies with low carbon and sustainability commitments stand to benefit from this long-term trend.


Human rights

The UN describes human rights as the rights inherent to us all as human beings, including the right to life, freedom from slavery and the freedom of opinion and expression.

Investment risks Investment opportunities

Unfortunately, human rights violations occur across the world, with particular sectors such as mining clothing and food industries at higher risk.

Companies neglecting human rights are exposed to operational, legal, and regulatory risks and reputation risks, all of which can impact their ability to create value for investors. For example, a clothing manufacturers operation could be undermined by employee strikes and walkouts, legal and regulatory fines and reputational damage leading to reduced consumer demand for their products.

Particularly in high risk sectors, companies paying attention to human rights and ESG factors generally have a lower level of risk.

Companies managing human rights risks and promoting the best labour practices lead to higher employee engagement and retention rates, less health and safety related absences, all of which impact the bottom line. Furthermore, consumers are more likely to buy from a company treating it’s employees well, and may even be willing to pay a premium for this and wider sustainable practices.

Want to know more?

Putting the ‘S’ in ESG

Read our article about the impacts on the rise in prominence of responsible investment and ESG (environmental, social and governance) related issues in recent years.

Read the article on ESG

The importance of human rights

As events continue to unfold in Afghanistan, human rights as an ESG issue is not just theoretical, and the impact it can have in the real world.
Read the article on human rights


Freshwater is abundant in some regions but not in others. Nevertheless, it's essential to our way of life, for people and industry.

Investment risks Investment opportunities

Freshwater availability and quality pose significant risks for industries and companies, particularly those that rely on water as a direct input to their production process such as mining or beverage companies. There's direct conflict for those that operate in water-stressed areas, where accessing freshwater is also critical for local communities.

These companies face increasing pressure to reduce the amount of water required in their production processes and to create closed loops to recycle and reuse water.

According to estimates by the World Bank, investments in water-related infrastructure need to triple to $114 billion per year between now and 2030 in order to achieve the goal of providing access to safe drinking water to all. This figure is conservative because it does not include operating and maintenance costs.

Companies offering products and services related to water treatment and distribution are well-positioned to benefit from this long-term trend.

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Quilter is committed to responsible investment

It’s time to change the way we invest. More and more, investors are aware of the impact that their decisions can have on our society and environment, and are looking for more than just a financial return on their investments. As a result, they now want more control over how their beliefs are represented through their investments.

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