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Citizens Can Demand A Sustainable Future  

Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Laura Round, who was Special Adviser to Penny Mordaunt as Secretary of State for International Development and Defence. 

Last week, world leaders came together at the United Nations General Assembly. The Sustainable Development Goals were front and centre on the agenda, with ten years left to achieve them by 2030. 

There has been some criticism that they are a cooked-up PR exercise, yet another political stunt or excuse for breakfasts with experts. But I believe they are a useful reminder for society and businesses about the importance of prosperity, because I would argue that you can’t define prosperity without sustainability. None of us will prosper if we aren’t sustainable.

The need for sustainability applies to everything. The obvious example, which has everyone concerned at the moment, is the environment and our climate. If our environment is not sustainable, the world will not prosper. But it goes far beyond environmental issues. It applies to our economic and finance systems, our legal systems, our local and national government, our education system, our healthcare system, our transport system, services such as electricity, and the list goes on.

These are all areas we have to ensure are sustainable if we want to prosper. And they are all represented in the Sustainable Development Goals. They are fundamentally linked to prosperity. This is why I believe the Goals are not just an afterthought, a political football or marketing tool. But they, and what they represent and call for, are crucial. 

We are still a long way off from achieving the Goals by 2030. In order to reach the Education Goal alone we are around 69 million teachers short. In total, there is a funding gap of over £2 trillion per year to achieve all the goals. Governments alone cannot fund this gap. There is a huge role for civil society, philanthropists and the private sector to play. 

So, what power do we have as citizens and as Global Shapers? 

Nearly every working person in this country has a pension and a savings account. And if you are one of them, you have more power than you might think! 

Some people may be uncomfortable if they found out what their money is being invested in, like coal mines, tobacco, fossil fuels, and even child labour. More and more people, especially younger generations, are wanting to see their funds invested in things that make the world a better place. 

Last week, the Department for International Development published results to their national survey to find out what the UK public wants from their savings and investments. The results were positive:

“When presented with a choice, most people in the UK would prefer their investments to consider impact on people and the planet, alongside financial considerations. In other words, most people want to invest in a better world. This is particularly clear among those with investable assets over £25,000. High levels of interest are also found among ‘millennials’, those aged between 18-39.”

Most people said they want their investments to avoid harm and do good for people on the planet. Fifty-two per cent say that they would be motivated to save more if they knew their savings and investments made a positive difference in the world. The figure rises to 67% for millennials. And 47% of people would want their pension switched if they found out that it was invested in a way that went against their values.  

The financial sector has started to respond to this demand with more opportunities to invest sustainably becoming available to consumers. Yet only 13% of people say they have currently made a sustainable investment.

How can we increase this number? The survey found that people find accessing, understanding and comparing sustainable savings and investment options difficult. More information about sustainable investment opportunities would be helpful and encourage more sustainable investments. However, crucially, 55% say that greater availability of products would help. Recommendations by professional financial advisers and also by friends and family were also listed high as motivations for people to make sustainable investments. 

It is great that companies are waking up to this by implementing ESG and CSR strategies. But it is important that it is not just a box-ticking exercise. And we - as citizens, consumers and savers - can do our bit to ensure our investments are responsible and impactful.

Together we can create a larger customer demand for a sustainable future! 

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