Updated – Lockdown Library: Your top ESG books, blogs and documentaries

The majority of the European workforce is adjusting to remote working, with many working from their home desks or kitchen tables for the first time

Self-isolation and social distancing means you may not get the peace to read on the train or listen to a podcast as you cycle to work, but it also means the possibility of more time on your hands – with all but essential travel advised against – to read that hefty book you have always been meaning to dust off, or watch the documentary series your friend raved about, particularly if the UK follows other countries around the world into complete lockdown.

ESG Clarity asked investment commentators for their top ESG media – whether that is a blog, book, documentary or social media profile – that they would recommend to their peers and have listed them below.

We are hoping this will be something we can add to regularly so please do get in touch with your top picks by emailing Natalie.kenway@lastwordmedia.com

Essay: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Recommended by Amaya Assan, research manager at Square Mile Investment Consulting and Research

This essay was adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 Ted talk, We Should All Be Feminists.  Written in an anecdotal and humorous way, it adroitly explores the question of what it means to be a woman and a feminist in today’s world. Only 60 pages in length, it is a wonderfully easy yet enlightening read, which leaves you questioning the obstacles we all face in the form of deeply ingrained societal beliefs about gender which form part of our day-to-day reality.  A read for the whole family.

Podcast: Outrage and Optimism

Recommended by Jennifer Wu, global head of sustainable investing at JP Morgan Asset Management

“This is a weekly podcast hosted by Christiana Figueres who was the woman that “made Paris happen” back in 2015 in her role as the executive secretary of UNFCCC, together with two other collaborators. It is by far the best podcast that focuses on climate change and covers a wide range of issues from mitigation to adaptation through the lens of policy, science, technology and investment. They are very educational and hugely informative.

What I love about the podcast is that they blend the sense of urgency, as well as hope for humanity so well, such that you know for sure that every single one of us, every human being, absolutely can and should change the course of global warming by taking action now.”

The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Investors and Managers By Lawrence A. Cunningham

Recommended by Nick Britton, head of intermediary communications at the AIC

“Too often the ‘G’ of ‘ESG’ is glossed over, but good governance is the foundation of any kind of responsible corporate strategy. Few bring this subject to life as engagingly as Buffett, who has spent a lifetime thinking about how the relationship between shareholders and companies ought to work. However, his lessons for managers can be summed up pretty simply: treat shareholders as you would wish to be treated if your positions were reversed. These extracts from his famous letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders are fascinating, not least because Buffett is admirably frank about his own mistakes and human frailties.”

Book: How Bad are Bananas? The carbon footprint of everything, by Mike Berners-Lee

Recommended by Deirdre Cooper, portfolio manager of the Global Environment Fund at Ninety One.

“This book explains in a very simple way the complexities of carbon footprinting. Many investment portfolios today are being optimised to minimise scope 1 and 2 carbon, which is a blunt and misleading tool in understanding climate risk as it ignores the footprint of the supply chain and the products and services once they are used.  Berners-Lee’s 2010 book (the update due to be published this year) explains that at a micro level. The carbon footprint of your cup of tea is not in the energy used to heat the water, but in the milk and its supply chain. But more importantly the book helps prompt behavioural change; to stay within 2 degrees everyone needs not only to change the way they invest, but to change the way they live.”

YouTube channel: 3Blue1Brown

Recommended by Dr Christine Chow, engagement professional, EOS at Federated Hermes

“3Blue1Brown is a math focused YouTube channel created by Grant Sanderson. The videos explain many complicated concepts in simplified terms, including how machine learning works, which helped EOS shape our thought leadership on AI and data governance. My take on being an ‘ESG thought leader’ is not about reading what everyone else is reading, but finding new perspectives on sustainability in the most unexpected sources. For me, these videos are a source of applied mathematics for positive social impact.”

Book: The Uninhabitable Earth: the story of the future, by David Wallace-Wells.

Recommended by Louisiana Salge, impact specialist at EQ Investors

“This is a refresher on climate change’s current trajectory – and a review of what current climate models (aggregated from thousands of scientific articles). It’s easy to take heat waves, rising sea levels etc as ‘natural disasters’, but they are indeed human-induced, and we need to work hard to bridge those mental gaps we still operate under. While his summary of climate research really is quite alarming, I think we need to be reminded more often about how much we already know (about how bad it can get and how to change that path) – we just need to act now. He discusses remedies including carbon tax, aggressive political action to phase out dirty energy quickly, and a transition away from animal protein.”

Blog: Bloomberg’s Money Stuff column by Matt Levine

Recommended by Lottie Meggitt, responsible investment analyst at Newton Investment Management

“Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine, a former classicist/lawyer/investment banker, writes a hilarious, fascinating and at times savage commentary on all things finance with a distinct corporate governance angle. In his daily column, he draws on his multi-disciplinary training to offer his unusual take on both well-known topics as well as less reported-on stories, which will make you laugh and then make you think. Recent pieces on whether index funds should be illegal, whether markets should be open for just 30 minutes a day, and the issues at WeWork are must-reads.”

Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore

Recommend by Patrick Thomas, head of ESG investing at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management 

“One of my biggest inspirations was Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. It was so ground-breaking and really opened people’s eyes. It set me on the path of thinking about investing from an environmentally responsible and socially conscious perspective.”

Essay/Book: The Uninhabitable Earth: the story of the future, by David Wallace-Wells.

Recommend by Patrick Thomas, head of ESG investing at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management 

 “This essay – which later became a book – The Uninhabitable Earth – was equally impactful. When I first read it back in 2017, I thought it was terrifying, hopeful and inspirational in equal measures. It addresses the delicacy of the gargantuan problems the world faces and possible solutions. 

“I thought it was fascinating to see satellite pictures of China and Italy and the reduction in the level of environmental pollution in response to measures put in place to combat COVID-19. We need some silver linings right now – this could be one.”

Author and Ted Talk speaker: Professor Johan Rockstrom

Recommended by Shannon Lancaster, fund analyst Ravenscroft

“I have been fascinated by the work of Professor Johan Rockstrom who has spent his life studying environmental science with an emphasis on water resources and global sustainability. He is an internationally recognised scientist renowned for his work on planetary boundaries and he delivered his message to the masses during a Ted Talk. The planetary boundaries concept shows us the nine processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth. Professor Rockstrom believes is fundamental in maintaining a safe operating space for humanity.

“The framework has been embraced by many governments and organisations and in particular Pictet Asset Management who use it as a key part of their investment process in their Global Enivronmental Opportunities Fund. Professor Rockstrom also has numerous books that explore this topic as well as sustainability and climate change.”

Social media: LinkedIn (Benjamin Yeoh and Mike Barry) and Instagram (Will_ Ita)

Recommended by Maria Lombardo, European head of ESG client strategies at Invesco

“Social media, predominantly LinkedIn keeps me abreast of daily insights from many advocates in ESG. I focus on several academics and some key advocates and practitioners who I find inspirational. I shout out to Benjamin Yeoh and Mike Barry. Mike is now supporting the ESG app CoGo that helps directing our consumer ESG efforts, including carbon offsetting: try it out.

 “Will_ Ita, a new Instagram news channel launched in Italy keeps me up to date with comprehensive but short factual Italian and world news, but they have ESG at heart.”

Social Media: Profile of @NamugerwaLeah

Recommended by Mandy Kirby, chief strategist at City Hive

“I like to follow grass-roots activists on social media, particularly in emerging markets (e.g. Leah Namugerwa, @NamugerwaLeah). There are some inspirational young people doing their best to raise awareness of existing issues and acting as a barometer of developing issues. It’s an excellent reminder of the real-world impacts that many are facing. I find they are brilliant at amplifying each other, so you only need to pick a couple to get started. I’m also really interested in developing research on digital sustainability – especially relevant now.”

Book:  No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, by Naomi Klein

Recommend by Gemma Woodward, Quilter Cheviot’s responsible investment director

“I think I must have read No Logo in 2000 and I know I was in France on holiday with friends who I probably bored immensely by quoting parts from the book. It opened my eyes to the fact that large corporations have significant influence and may be a malign influence on society as a whole. It is something that I hadn’t really thought about before as an investor it was something I began to think about in terms of the decisions we make.”

Documentary: Blue Planet series
Recommended by Matt Evans, portfolio manager of UK Sustainable Equity Fund at Ninety One
“I would recommend Blue Planet, in fact, I would include all documentaries by Sir David Attenborough.  Although obvious perhaps, his experience, breadth of travel and passionate assessment of the natural world is such compelling viewing and accessible to the masses. However, his assessment of the impact of humanity on the natural world raises serious issues and challenges, encouraging us to find serious solutions. He delivers his message with hope for the future but tests us to step up to the challenge. I would love to see humanity continue to evolve and develop and elevate the standard of living of all humankind while respecting the natural world in all its glory.”

Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth and An Inconvenient Sequel… Truth to Power

Recommended by Graeme Baker, portfolio manager of the Global Environment Fund at Ninety One

“For me, An Inconvenient Truth, created in 2006 and its sequel An Inconvenient Sequel… Truth to Power, presented by former US presidential candidate Al Gore, are the some of the most powerful and thought provoking viewing of our time. The first of these documentaries was produced in 2006 when the issues of climate change were little known and wildly under-appreciated. I would argue that they remain the biggest mainstream call to arms on climate change, sustainability and the environment – what’s more, they are backed up by the use of good science and data. The documentaries provide hope and address potential climate change mitigation technologies. They talk about the risks of climate change, but also the future opportunities in a clear and simple way that everyone can understand.”

Book: Grow the Pie, How great companies deliver both purpose and profit by Alex Edmans.  

Recommended by Jessica Ground, global head of stewardship at Schroders

This has only just been released, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy.  Ultimately, if we are going to make progress on social and environmental issues, we need to make progress on what happens within companies. This book is very much grounded in the real world, but shows how companies can become more successful by embracing purpose.  Lots of new examples.  

Book: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez.

Recommended by Claire Herbert, product executive – ESG at Schroders

A fantastic book that opened my eyes to gender diversity issues and biases against women that many wouldn’t notice in day-to-day behaviour and designs of common infrastructures. This book highlights data is power… it allows us to become more informed and make better decisions that drive change in the long term.

Book: Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Recommended by Paris Jordan, analyst for socially responsible investing at Sanlam UK

“This is an incredible book about unconscious bias. It is written by the award-winning writer Caroline Criado Perez and brings together an impressive range of research from across the world that shows the hidden ways in which women are forgotten. Perez reviews government policy, medical research, technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media, and reveals the biased data behind female exclusion. This book drives home the importance of diversity and how including a variety of individuals results in greater outcomes for all. It is an incredibly enlightening book that every business manager and leader needs to read.”

YouTube: TedTalks

Recommended by David Harrison, fund manager of the Rathbone Global Sustainability Fund

“Mine would be TedTalks. Why? TedTalks is an open resource that is not solely limited to ESG issues, but covers a whole range of topics.  The talks are succinct, insightful and delivered by a wide range of experts in their fields. They are often thought-provoking and importantly very forward-thinking when it comes to issues of the environment and social issues.  They encourage debate, but critically for somebody like me provide important food for thought when it comes to investing.  I would encourage everybody to visit the site.”


Natalie Kenway

Natalie is editor in chief at MA Financial covering ESG Clarity, Portfolio Adviser and International Adviser. She was previously global head of ESG insight for ESG Clarity and has been an investment journalist...