Businesses (and, by implication, investors) must make a profit in order to survive and thrive. The big question for our time is focused on how businesses make a profit.
When, in the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher got together and decided that capital (finance) should be deregulated globally they, wittingly or unwittingly, unleased the ‘Bad Human’. This Bad Human sought to make a profit in any way possible – with total disregard for the environmental or human costs. This Bad Human has virtually eliminated the middle class from previously prosperous nations and plunged millions (including far too many from previously prosperous nations) into poverty. At the same time, this Bad Human has created 2,095 billionaires globally (in 2020, according to Investopedia). In the UK alone, the richest 1% have accumulated as much wealth as the poorest 55% of the population and the poorest 50% of the population have 9% of total wealth. Moreover, the Bad Human has pushed the World to the brink of environmental catastrophe. Unless we can actually reverse (not just limit) the trend of environmental damage we imperil our very existence.
This Bad Human was, well, just bad, but it took the global financial crash of 2008 and the coronavirus (Covid 19) pandemic for us to realise that something had to change. Cue the emergence of the ‘Good Human’. Of course, there have been good humans around for a long time, but the mass adoption of ESG, particularly from within the financial community (broadly defined), is a more recent phenomenon. In contrast to the Bad Human, this Good Human sought (seeks) to ensure that their business practices were (are) sustainable (mostly for the long term 50, 100 or 300 years hence). These Good Humans promote positive ESG practices in their business activities. The Good Human does not seek to take advantage of the environment or harm the environment; they do not seek to take advantage of people (as workers or consumers). The Good Human is still motivated to make a profit (an important element in ensuring the sustainability of their business) but they seek to do so whilst promoting a range of positive ESG values. For the last 40 years the Bad Human has been the smart human – maximising their own profitability at the expense of others. Now, as the 21st Century begins to mature, the smart human is the Good Human. The Smart Good Human has realised that profitability and sustainability are best achieved by promoting environmental health and social wellbeing (globally).
The above is, of course, a caricature. Real life is rarely, if ever, so binary. There is, however, enough truth in the above caricature to make our choices clear(er). Do you want to be a Bad Human or a Good Human?