Checks and Balances

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    It must have been all those champagne bubbles imbibed on the last day of 2021 that sparked my cheerful new year’s resolution to stay on the positive side of the sustainability debate throughout 2022. My intention was clear: I would focus on ideas and solutions driving the world forward instead of instinctively[1] and rather conveniently joining the disgruntled chorus of critics. Let’s just say it has been challenging to live up to that sunny principle during a year when humankind kept crossing planetary boundaries just as nonchalantly as Putin’s tanks trampled over the borders of a sovereign country nearby.

    Intentionality aside, I am sure you’d agree that accountability is essential in our line of work. I decided, therefore, to revisit all the Snaps I posted last year in an attempt to measure my degree of ‘positiveness’ and rate how successfully I’ve honoured my commitment. I am, of course, willing to admit upfront some major flaws in the methodology. As classifications go, assigning my weekly musings to one of three buckets (positive, negative, or in-between) is highly subjective and arbitrary. The holidays were hardly the right time to develop an elaborate and stringent taxonomy of positive activities, though. Also, as it turns out, a single innocent comment at the end of an article can sometimes exert a principal adverse impact on the central thesis, shifting its position along the black-and-white scale. Yet, we shouldn’t let perfect get in the way of good, as many a sustainability experts keep reminding us.

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    At first sight, the statistics are not that encouraging, I must admit. Despite a conscious effort to keep a cheerful outlook, there is only a slight advantage for the pink-lensed articles (19) compared to the bleaker ones (16). The rest of the 2022 Snap posts (11) are rather impartial observations that I fail to squeeze easily into one of those categories.

    The ratio might not sound that impressive, yet I find some solace in the fact that I didn’t let myself be completely overwhelmed by the grim numbers of the latest IPCC reports, say, or the ease with which oil stocks and the Russian Rubel outperformed more sustainable investment options. Yes, the column reflected the reality of falling bombs, disastrous heatwaves, deliberate gas leaks and the threat of a nuclear war. And, of course, I couldn’t ignore the powerful ESG backlash that, alongside cleverly formulated greenwashing accusations by Fancy, Kirk, and other sceptics, sent me soul-searching on many occasions.

    Yet, the glimpses of light and hope did not drown in this sea of troubles. After all, the year did offer plenty of evidence of both goodwill and human ingenuity to celebrate. From scientific advances in fusion technology, capturing, storing and shipping the energy of the sun and wind, or zero-emission cement to innovative financial solutions like the rhino bonds or democratising proxy voting, I did my best to shine a light on some of them. Even politicians occasionally came through by voting for the Inflation Reduction Act in the US or finalising the 30×30 biodiversity pledge at COP15.

    All in all, it has been a mixed bag of a year, black and white, but mostly an annoying mixture of the two, like thawing snow blending into the mud. Let’s leave it behind and focus on the brand-new 2023. Next week, once we’ve all sobered up after the holidays, I’ll tell you all about my new new year’s resolution. It might prove to be even more challenging.

    [1] Human beings’ cognitive bias toward bad news is well-documented.

    Image courtesy of Pexels from Pixabay
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia has accumulated experience in asset management for more than 20 years in Stockholm and Beijing, in portfolio management, asset allocation, fund selection and risk management. In December 2020, she completed a program in Sustainability Studies at the University of Linköping. Julia speaks Mandarin, Bulgarian, Hindi, Russian, Swedish, Urdu and English. She holds a Master in Indology from Sofia University and has completed studies in Economics at both Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics.
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