Ethical Investment Pioneer: Clare Brook, WHEB Asset Management

Greenhouse

To celebrateGood Money Week we’re republishing our interview with Clare Brook – a leading figure in the ethical investment sector for 23 years.

Clare Brook on her bikeWe think Clarehas more than earned her pioneer status – shepreviously led socially responsible investment teams at NPI and then Aviva, building up both companies’ funds from scratch to £1 billion of assets within just five years.

Now afounding partner of WHEB Asset Management,she also jointly launched the WHEB Sustainability Fund in 2009. It combines profitable investment themes with a values-based approach, giving investors a truly socially responsible investment option.

Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about WHEB – what’s your mission?

WHEB aims to invest in companies that are providing solutions to some of the most serious sustainability challenges we face.

What motivates you to do what you do?

All the technology exists to solve our most serious problems – climate change, hunger, water shortages, pollution. It’s just a question of redirecting capitalism so that the economy works for people, planet and future generations. I think I’m playing a very small part in effecting that shift.

What are the biggest challenges in building momentum for ethical finance?

Making people realise that investing in line with your values is not flaky or likely to lead to bad performance, but the most sensible thing you can do in the long run.

What trends or developments are you most excited about in sustainable and ethical investment?

The rise of focused, thematic funds, such as ours. For a while it seemed as if the direction was for sustainable and ethical investment to become increasingly mainstream, and the top ten holdings of many funds looked like non-ethical funds.

Thematic funds have a much more interesting range of holdings that are genuinely providing solutions to sustainability challenges.

What one thing could change the future of finance?

It’s obviously not something I’d wish, but a really catastrophic climate change related event – New York or London under water – would make policy makers wake up to the fact that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically and concertedly, not just by the subtle increments that are talked about at Copenhagen and Rio.

That would mean that the global economy would cease to be dominated by oil companies and other unsustainable industries and would instead be led by renewables and energy efficiency companies.

Where do you want to take WHEB next?

We want to continue to grow assets under management in the FP WHEB Sustainability Fund so that WHEB can become a large and even more influential business.

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

Fight the good fight. Don’t give up, even if it sometimes seems futile.

If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?

Ban petrol-driven cars.

What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across, and inspired you?

I still think the bicycle is the greatest invention ever! And I think Boris Bikes have been an excellent initiative for London. All seven (100%) of the staff of WHEB Asset Management cycle to work – so we do walk our talk. Or ride it.

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?

Capitalism: As If The World Matters by Jonathon Porritt.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

The best advice I heard was in a recording of a Face to Face interview with Bertrand Russell, the great philosopher. He was asked what his one message to humanity would be, and he said ‘It’s a very simple one: Love is good and hate is bad’. I try to remember that in the most complex of situations.

If you could encourage people to invest in one thing, what would it be – and why?

Well of course I’d say the FP WHEB Sustainability Fund (although our Head of Compliance would say you’d have to speak to a financial adviser and not take my word for it!) To see why, have a look at www.whebam.com.

Can you leave us with who’d be your Ethical Investment Pioneer?

Ben Goldsmith is my Ethical Investment Pioneer. He’s only 32, but he’s already achieved a huge amount, notably co-founding WHEB, which is on course to be the leading sustainable finance firm in Europe and setting up the Environmental Funders Network.

He and his brother Zac are also trying to make the Conservative Party see sense on environmental issues. He’s achieved all this in about a decade, so who knows what he might achieve in the next few.

 

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