Why Erik Breen, Director Socially Responsible Investments (SRI), finds investing so inspiring
Erik Breen, Director SRI, Triodos Investment Management

"I want to mend the broken chain"

Interview

Our current financial system is a system in which decision making occurs in increasingly fragmented steps. It is no longer clear who is responsible for what. The language in the chain has become a language of only money. Of risk and return. But there is so much more to it. Erik Breen thinks it is important to mend that broken chain and make the connection between the language of money and the value of mankind to whom that money belongs.

"Halfway through my teens I already knew I wanted to work in investments. Economics is somehow intangible, but at the same time has a very human aspect. Somewhere in the world something happens, and this has an impact on the companies that we invest in. This happens in such a complex world with so much information. I feel so lucky to have this job... l find it so inspiring that I am in a position to look at such events every day, can follow all that and understand it.

When I studied econometrics, internships were not yet compulsory, but I did three because I felt that practical experience was really important. After I graduated I immediately wanted to start working and wrote my one and only application letter. I worked for a large investment company for eighteen years and was given some great opportunities. For instance, in the last few years that I worked there I was involved in managing the sustainable part of the investment portfolio. That is when I introduced engagement with companies - carrying on dialogues. All very well, but we did this within a fragmented system.

Because the financial system that we currently have is a system in which decision making occurs in increasingly fragmented steps. What I see is that we no longer know who is responsible for what. The language in the chain has become a language of only money. Of risk and return. But there is so much more to it. For me personally, it is important that we mend that broken chain. We must make a connection between the language of money and the value of mankind to whom that money belongs.

Values that cannot be expressed in monetary terms. There is so much more that counts besides financial value. Also, when you invest on the stock market. That is why I enjoy working for Triodos Investment Management. Here we can apply that holistic approach for everyone, because all our clients want this.

Relationship with nature

Let's consider one of the companies that we invest in, DSM. A great example, because DSM started off as a state mining company and has continued to develop through innovation. The company evolved into a chemical company and now increasingly focuses on health and food. From state mining to the biggest manufacturer of vitamins. It is great to see that over a longer period of time, a company such as DSM keeps reinventing itself.

When looking at the companies that we invest in, we look at the relationship that they have with nature and with the people who work for the company. They must not only comply with the legal framework, but must go further and feel responsible for doing more.

Balancing and searching for leaders

I don't want to look in the rearview mirror and invest in stocks that are forced upon me by a system. This is what happens a lot to investors who invest in listed companies, because they follow an index. This implies that they invest in companies that are comparable with companies that are included in that index. Does the index contain an oil company? If so, you are forced to also invest in that company. Even if this means you are not looking ahead.

I have seen that this is not the only way, that at Triodos Investment Management we can invest in listed companies based on our vision and knowledge, and not led by an index. We look for leaders. If you can only invest in perfect companies, you might as well give up. We need to find a balance here. We look at where we can bring about change. And with respect to which areas we can enter into a dialogue. If a company intends to change in the way that we advocate and has shown that it is able to do so, then we want to help these companies in that endeavour. That is what innovation means to me."

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