Welcome to a new series from ESG Clarity where investment professionals from the responsible investment space share their habits and summer activities that are contributing to a more sustainable world.
For these light-hearted pieces, we ask about summer plans and holidays, and charitable work.
Here, Stephanie Niven, portfolio manager within the global sustainable equity team at Ninety One, shares the company’s work with Tusk and how competitive team games have raised money for Ukraine, her family cycling holiday and running the Lewa Safari Marathon.
How has your year been so far? Have you stuck to any sustainable New Year’s Resolutions?
So far, 2022 has been a year for getting outside and getting some fitness back! I’ve long been a keen sports person and 2022 has been great so far in terms of diving back into those things that make me happy – running in the woods next to my house, sneaking in half hours on the rowing machine at lunchtime, and playing with my kids in the swimming pool.
The weather really helps with getting out in the evenings to burn off those pressures of the workplace, and my son has recently been joining me on runs with his bike to make it a nice family affair.
I’ve recently enjoyed ‘competing’ in Ninety One’s London to Lviv cycle relay for the charity We Help Ukrainians; I thought I had signed up for an enjoyable charity ride on the stationary bike admiring the views of London from our office terrace, but – in true Ninety One fashion – it quickly became an all-out competition to beat the 50kmph target set early in the day!
Last minute legs from our CEO Hendrik du Toit and executive team pulled the event to a close and we hit the finish line target of £20,000 in total donations!
How are you connecting with nature this summer or protecting biodiversity near to where you live or work?
My colleague Sam Anthony and I have been working hard to build our investment frameworks to bring sustainability analysis into the heart of our investment processes, and one of the components has been to think about how we might analyse biodiversity risk and impact.
While we would love to be able to put a number to biodiversity, we have had to work hard to think more holistically about how we assess biodiversity in its materiality and nuances to the business models and opportunities we invest in.
As such, Sam and I are organising our first Sustainability Volunteer Day in August and are looking forward to rolling up our sleeves, better connecting with nature as a team and enjoying some fresh perspectives and skills in the process.
What do you find are the benefits of spending more time in the great outdoors?
There is something about the open physical expanse that has a calming effect and provides the opportunity to think at a slower pace, and perhaps see things from a slightly different perspective. While it sounds a little cliched, it is no less true.
Being outside allows for that better connection with nature more broadly, helping establish a deep ecology mindset. The mental health benefits from being out in the fresh air and the ability to connect with our senses from being in the great outdoors can be the perfect switch off we all need from a busy working life.
Are you planning a holiday? How will you make it ESG-friendly?
Holidays are a difficult balancing act, trying to combine the benefits of foreign environments with considerations for impact on the environment. As a team we try to think hard about methods of travel – flying only when the train isn’t a feasible alternative. We also tend to travel in economy which is has the lowest footprint and typically offset carbon emissions when we fly – whilet recognising these schemes may not always be perfect.
For the first week of the summer holidays, my husband and I are off to the Alps – driving and train – with our three young children – six, four, and two years old. My husband and I met through racing for the same cycling team, and we are excited to show our kids cycling in its natural habitat. I know my husband has aggressive downhill mountain biking ambitions, but I am hoping to show the younger ones the joys of travelling at a slower pace through the French greenery. The Tour de France will pass through the village we are staying in, and I hope to introduce my children to a healthy dose of competitive inspiration in the process.
Are you taking part in any charity events or initiatives benefitting the climate or society?
I have just returned [this morning] from taking part in the Lewa Safari Marathon to help raise vital funds for Tusk for a range of wildlife conservation projects, schools, clinics, and community programmes across Kenya. Tusk’s mission is to amplify the impact of progressive conservation initiatives across Africa, and the charity has earned a reputation for providing a highly efficient solution for funding wildlife conservation programmes. Ninety One has long been a partner with Tusk, and it was fantastic to both raise funds for, and awareness of, the charity and its work. While fund raising remains open for another month, Ninety One’s team has already raised in excess of £20k for Tusk, and with Ninety One matching sponsorship contributions from employees, the impact will be even more significant. (Note from editor: To sponsor Stephanie and the Ninety One team click here)
Whilst out in Kenya we were able to visit local schools and projects and really have a sense of impact on the society of the charity supports. It was lovely to see school children learning crucial skills such as water conservative and planting bananas which they can take back to their families and villages to further sustain their communities. On a personal level, it was amazing to pass on some of the many pairs of shoes and trainers donated by Ninety One employees directly to those who will receive so much benefit from them.
Has your employer got any sustainable activities planned this summer? What does it do in the workplace to ensure it mitigates its impact on the environment?
In May this year, Ninety One were diamond sponsors of the IMpower FundForum event in Monaco, and I felt so proud of how Ninety One worked with Inform to carbon offset the entire conference and all of its participants. Through careful calculations and working alongside Brazilian firm Natural Capital Partners,, we were able to estimate total carbon tonnage at 2,300 and offset the emissions. Natural Capital Partners are focused on both conservation and community developments in the Acre Amazonian Rainforest, conserving some 10-3,000 hectares of rainforest and providing community support through education, doctor visits, and some fundamental business skills. Ninety One was able to work with Informa to secure the event with a Carbon Neutral Event Certification.
What would you like to see more of in the investment industry from a sustainability perspective?
I would love to see more nuanced thinking within the investment industry on what constitutes sustainability and what is likely to deliver the real world impact our clients and investors need. I would question whether the industry is right, in aggregate, to think that it has done the correct thing in raising many large asset pools into ESG and sustainably labelled strategies.
The industry may even be congratulating itself on helping to direct capital to support a more sustainable future. However, I think over the next few years we’ll look back on what we thought of as sustainable investing today… and we’ll barely recognise it. The depth, rigour and quality of investment process required to invest sustainably in today’s world – let alone tomorrow’s world – is of a different order. So, I throw out there the challenge: asset managers need to invest in developing new processes, new analytical methodologies, and maybe even new and different looking and sounding investment teams, to ensure we can deliver the returns and positive impact investors need from us in the years ahead.