Published: 01:59, October 5, 2020 | Updated: 15:30, June 5, 2023
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COVID-19 forces investors to reassess 'sustainable investment'
By Sophie He

We can hardly call “sustainable investment” a new topic. It has been talked, discussed and practiced for decades, but I don’t believe anything quite like the COVID-19 pandemic has been able to put the idea into fresh perspective.

During the past few years, whenever I’ve been talking to private banks and consultancy firms on this subject, I would ask them about the major pushbacks or any aspects that could be improved in terms of encouraging more people to invest in sustainable projects?

The most common answer I received would be “we should continue to raise the awareness of sustainable investment”, which I can only interpret as people, investors, haven’t attached enough importance to environmental, social and governance factors, in other words that they were not determined to make their investment accountable so that mankind has a better future.

But the tables may have been turned.

When we encountered the COVID-19 pandemic, and we witnessed collectively how a virus practically shut down all non-essential activities of human beings for months, if this is not a window of opportunity for investors, wealthy families, and large corporates to take a long, hard look at the relationship between mankind and Mother Nature, then nothing will be.

Personally, I believe the pandemic is another demonstration of how powerful Mother Nature can be and how vulnerable mankind is. How should we conduct ourselves, particularly those of us who have the power and resources, what should we do, what are our next moves, next investments, and are we ready to shoulder the responsibility of helping to make the world a better place to live?

Recently I did a telephone interview with Amy Lo, co-head wealth management Asia-Pacific of UBS Global Wealth Management, she told me that during the past few months, her clients have made more inquiries about sustainable investment than ever before.

They now have more time for us, as they can’t go anywhere, they have more time to think and to talk about sustainable investment, she noted.

That more investors are beginning to think and starting to care about sustainable investment might be one of the few good things to have resulted from this pandemic.

I come from Jilin, a city in the northeast of the Chinese mainland that is famous for its long, cold winter and rime. When I was a child, the winter days near Lunar New Year were chilly and often dipped below -30 C.

On the eve of Lunar New Year, my family would go outside and my father would set off fireworks for us to watch. I could barely stand that cold so I would have to wear one of those ridiculous looking hats which covered both ears and a large part of my face. I could never take my hands out of the cotton gloves as my fingers would have frozen.

Whenever I have visited my parents at Lunar New Year in recent years, it has never been that cold again, and there was one winter, when my mom told me that it didn’t snow once.

So, just like COVID-19, the change and the impact of global warming and other environmental issues can be seen and felt, and now is a perfect time for investors to think and to engage in making a difference.

And for Hong Kong, a city that stands as a global financial center, investors here should lead the way in terms of sustainable investment.

The author is a Hong Kong-based journalist.