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The key sustainable takeaways from WHEB AM's annual conference

The key sustainable takeaways from WHEB AM's annual conference

 Following another year of strong performance, WHEB Asset Management held its annual investor conference on June 21 at the RSA House in London.

With a crowd of advisers, wealth managers and clients in attendance, the WHEB team discussed the opportunities for investing in businesses that encourage sustainable and low carbon economies.

The event took place at an opportune moment for WHEB. Funds under management have just gone above £240 million, marking a significant rise from the £30m figure reported in April 2012.

The fund appears to be in the ascendency, and is widely lauded for its commitment to positive impact criteria.

Moreover, it has achieved an impressive 83.32% cumulative return over the past five years. This compares favourably to the 78.57% returns from the benchmark provided by the MSCI World Total Return, and indicates that conscious investing does not involve a sacrifice of returns.

WHEB managing partner George Latham began the seminar with a 15-minute welcome to the audience, and this was followed by a presentation from author John Elkington on the future of sustainable consumption.

Elkington admits there is confusion amongst professionals and clients about what various acronyms stand for in the sustainable space, with many unsure of the relevance of terms such as ESG and SRI.

Even so, he predicts that the firms who truly commit to these goals will be the ones who last, noting that clients ‘will work out over time how to deal with this.’

He also believes that technology is going to have a big impact in this space. ‘In the process AI could potentially provide better solutions, more clarity, and a greater sense of what our priorities are,’ he says.

For a case study in how WHEB works with companies, Stephanie Kniep and Peter Bartsch from fibers manufacturer Lenzing were next on stage.

While this focused on how Lenzing’s products are more environmentally friendly than alternatives, it also featured a frank discussion of how Lenzing’s Asian operation had been named in the ‘Dirty Fashion’ report for polluting water in Asia, and how WHEB had subsequently engaged with the company.

This was followed by a panel debate on the future of health care, featuring Dr. Joanna Medhurst (medical director at the Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust) and Dr Shaun O’Hanlon (chief medical officer of EMIS Group).

Digitisation and big data were largely on the agenda, with the consensus being that far more can be done to ensure that the potential of data is harnessed.

There was also conversation around the delivery of healthcare and the use of technology, with O’Hanlon observing that ‘people, especially men, open up more to an app than they would to another person.’ Insights such as this could have implications for how illnesses are diagnosed and how care is provided.

From this point, WHEB provided an overview on developments in impact investments, and an update on the performance of the FP WHEB Sustainability Fund. WHEB partner Seb Beloe, who is also head of research, pointed out that there has been a step forward in public awareness of sustainability, especially following the success of TV series Blue Planet.

The availability of ethical or sustainability frameworks was also mentioned as an encouraging development, with Beloe citing the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals as a prime example.

The event finished with a panel debate and Q&A session, enabling investors to grill the WHEB team on any issue surrounding sustainability and fund performance. Post-event entertainment was provided by musical education group Tomorrow’s Warriors.

On reflection, the seminar highlighted some key issues in the sustainable space. For instance that sustainability is an ongoing process, and one that does not always fully deliver on its goals.

However, the considerably more powerful message is that investment can generate returns for society and the environment, while also delivering financial returns that are above the benchmark.

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