Introducing rewired.earth: The non-profit working with asset managers and consumers on sustainability data

Partnership with St. James's Place

In this video interview, co-founder of rewired.earth Rupert Pearce explains the non-profit’s vision for the “biggest sustainability data gathering exercise” across the broader investment market, its app, and how it aligns consumer preferences with the Sustainable Development Goals, and the working relationship with St. James’s Place.

The full video transcript is below:

NK: Hello, I’m Natalie Kenway, global head of ESG Insights at ESG Clarity. Today, I’m in our brand new studios in London joined by Rupert Pearce, co-founder of rewired.earth, a new initiative that is aiming to tackle the problems we have with sustainability data.

Thank you very much for joining us today, Rupert. Tell us a bit more about rewired.earth. When was it launched? How did it come about?

RP: In a nutshell, we’re in a situation where lots of people are running around and in some cases creating great solutions around the data problem that I think we all know about. The reality is we don’t think this is going to change unless there’s a clear demand signal. When we think about a demand signal, we need to really understand where citizens generally, but specifically investors, consumers and employees, what they really care about in terms of sustainability.

We’ve created a tool and an app where you’re going to be able to quite simply see from a UN Sustainable Development Goals [perspective], for example from investors ‘these are my priorities, goals, what I care about most. Not just what I care about sustainability generally, but quite specifically I care about no poverty or zero hunger or health and well-being or climate action’.

Because if the market understands what people really care about and what investors really care about, then they’ve got a clear business case to respond.

On one side, we’re building the tool and building the app where we can get millions of people, billions of people all over the world to tell us what they care about. And then on the flipside, using those same UN SDGs, look at the actual impact of a company on a business so you can see on your smartphone – these are my priorities in terms of the SDGs, and these are how businesses’ funds are actually doing compared to my priorities. There will be a red, amber, green square that can indicate, for example if it’s no poverty, ‘no poverty is my number one’. On the flip side, we can then identify organisations that are doing incredibly well from a ‘no poverty’ perspective.

So it’s a common language for sustainability, which is going to make things much simpler across the market, but also give businesses a real reason to change. When we talk about data and we think about data right now, everything is a philanthropic action or a cost or regulatory burden.

There’s so much burden now on businesses, but actually, how do we reward businesses? Because once it is that clear demand signal, once value pulls form off of those demand signals, then businesses, once they understand whether investors are looking to go and where their customers want them to be, then they can create direct action to respond to that demand. And that’s where CEOs, CFOs can really see the business angle and the reason to change for the better.

So let’s ensure sustainability in the market properly rewards people and our planet by incentivising businesses to actually change.

NK: I really like the idea of linking to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which is becoming a bit more of a common language, isn’t it? Tell us a bit more about how the app works and how we, as citizens, can use that.

RP: The app is pretty simple. All we’re trying to do is give people a clear mechanism for ranking those UN SDGs. Of the 17 Goals, the 17th is partnership for all the goals. So that is the interface, that is the square that we’re using to report all of this. And all you do, just like you would on Instagram in terms of selecting photos, you would select the 1 to 16, however many you care about in terms of UN SDGs, and then on the flip side [the investment firms] would see the results of the global population. So what do people in other countries care about? What do people of different sexes, different ethnicities care about? But also importantly, how do you start getting information about the UN SDGs that you care about?

And then how do you start getting recommended different funds, different investment vehicles, different pension funds, different initiative projects that are linked to your [preferred] SDGs. So ultimately, once the impact tool is completely finished, you’ll see exactly the businesses, or funds, and how they capture your UN SDGs.

But while that’s being set up, the app is going to be a really easy tool. If you actually say: ‘Okay, I really care about health and wellbeing, these are the projects that are really focused on health and wellbeing, these are the initiatives or these are the people in different parts of the world that really care about health and wellbeing as well’.

I’m often criticized for saying it could become a dating app for sustainability, but it really is an incredible way of bringing people together and ensuring that people’s voices in communities right around the world do get heard.

NK: I look forward to having a look at it. Tell us about the relationship with St. James’s Place.

RP: SJP has been absolutely fantastic in supporting what we’re trying to do and I think at the heart of it is trying to create that simplicity.

When we talk about the UN SDGs, there are problems with them but they are the best we have got and they are adopted in 193 different countries, and more and more businesses are starting to understand the importance of mapping their work to the UN SDGs.

Having that simple interface, having that app where you as an investment manager, financial adviser or wealth manager can say: ‘Actually, I really want to understand what my investors care about, what my clients and customers care about, and I want to give them a simple way to actually compare funds or compare initiatives or compare lifestyle choices to their priorities. For them, when there’s so much noise, there are lots of different ratings out there, there’s lots of different noise that people can’t trust – this gives someone a really simple tool that they can say to their customer and clients this is where you can focus your attention. This is where you can make your lifestyle decisions.

[SJP has been] incredibly supportive, but they also see the importance of creating that common language, that, and this is really important that it’s not just St. James’s Place saying this is the right answer, this has to be adopted across the industry. Then you’ve got that comparability and that transparency that everyone is using the same tool. Why would we try and compete on?

That’s why we’ve set up the not for profit very specifically, because we have to create that tool that is adopted market-wide and then people can compete on services, people can compete on business offerings on top of it, but they can’t be competing on the underlying platform because we need that simple language, that simple tool that everyone can use. Consumers can use, customers, investors and employees, so we get that clear market signal that will change how the market fundamentally operates.

NK: It sounds like it’s going to really make a difference. What happens if we don’t get this right? What happens in the future?

RP: [When we look at] all of the reports and at 1.5 degrees from a carbon perspective, the reality is we’re missing that now and we all need to work harder.

I think top climate scientists that we’re working with are saying it is going to become very apparent in the next 12-to-24 months, even if we look at this past summer, that climate change is real and that we’ve got to work harder to solve this problem.

I think water is going to become a bigger problem more quickly. So again, net zero is really important and we should be focusing on that. But actually we need to think about how this is an interconnected problem and we need systemic change, and that’s where the UN SDGs come in because we need to stop focusing on one specific area. We need to think about how these pieces come together.

It’s easy to say we’re running out of time, it’s easy to say a lot more work needs to be done, but that’s where we need to start creating the tools. We can’t just be having these conversations philosophically about we need to make the world a better place, we need to look at net zero, we need to look at targets.

What are the tools, what is the technology, what is the data-focused approach that’s going to solve this problem? So let’s create those platforms – there is a huge amount of work going on across the marketplace but let’s make businesses’ job easier. Let’s make asset management work for everyone. Let’s make sure that businesses can speak to their customers in a way that they understand and that businesses can report in a way that’s really going to make a difference to our sustainability challenges, because right now we don’t have enough solutions, we have too much talk, and we need to actually get to what is going to work for this planet, because the planet will still be here, but we might not be.

NK: There really is too much talk, isn’t there? We do need that reaction What’s next for you as rewired.earth? What are your priorities and how can people get involved?

RP: It’s so exciting in terms of the tool being ready. The app will be released before the end of the year, which we are incredibly excited about. And it’s now how do we actually get everyone agreeing this is the right platform to use across the marketplace because this only works if it’s a joined-up solution. So how do the technology houses, asset managers, wealth managers and businesses start to come together and say, this is our baseline, this is how we create the demand signal? And on the flip side, this is how we look at supply and there’ll be lots of different tech solutions and regulation and standards that fit into that impact side. But how do we use this as the baseline that we can actually then start to move forward together and people can compete, keep competing – people can make good money from their businesses and from their solutions, but they’ve just got a level playing field to start from.

So that’s what we need to do now is [work out] how do we work with the UN, how do we work with governments, how do we work with asset managers right across the world? While this started in the UK, we’re looking at chapters right across the world in terms of how do we take this forward and how we ensure that the right industry bodies are involved. The ICAEW [Institute of Chartered Accountants] supports us in the UK, the Institute of Directors, CBI [Confederation of British Industry]. How do those organisations get behind us internationally to make sure this is a truly joined up approach? Also, how do we launch the app, get people incredibly excited to engage? There are a number of celebrities that are lining up to see how we get it out to the mass market. And [we also want] organisations to come together along with governments to say this is the right approach and let’s get going.

NK: Fantastic. Well, thank you for sharing that with us and good luck with everything.

RP: Thank you very much for having me.

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Natalie Kenway

Natalie is global head of ESG insight for ESG Clarity and has been an investment journalist for 16 years. She won Editor of the Year at the Aviva Investors Sustainability Media Awards 2021, and was Winner...