A few weeks ago, I watched with suspicion as events unfolded around Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse. And more recently, we can also add First Republic Bank to this list. Things fizzled out in the end, but these crises are yet more proof to me that the financial sector is still very short-term oriented. The wake-up call of the financial crisis in 2008 has not led to systemic change. Many saw the problems at Credit Suisse coming, but no one intervened. Although the merger with UBS solves the current problem at Credit Suisse, it now creates an even bigger bank. And what happens if this one gets into trouble? It feels a bit like the problem is simply being pushed forward, and this has one huge drawback: you solve nothing, and at some point, you will pay the price.
The parallel with another major challenge - how we sustain a habitable world - is obvious. Global warming and biodiversity loss are urgent issues that require focused action. But we keep putting these off too. The latest IPCC report on our climate is downright alarming. Scientists give us another seven years to put sustainable solutions in place. That's not long. It makes you want to shout from the rooftops to spur people into action.
But change is difficult, and the process is erratic. Even if it's for a good cause. This applies to us, as individuals, but also to governments and business. In the United States, for example, we are seeing new opposition to plans to combat global warming. The power and influence of the fossil fuel industry is huge there. In the Netherlands, we are having a heated and difficult debate on how to tackle the nitrogen problem. I find it painful to observe that short-term profits are slowing down the structural change needed to ensure a habitable world for our children and the generations to come.
This makes me think of a book I read recently called Extreme Ownership, written by two US former Navy SEALs: Jocko Willink & Leif Babin. The military setting may be slightly unrelated to the culture at Triodos, but the authors make it clear that you will only achieve goals if you dare to take extreme ownership. Not only for your own actions, but also for the external circumstances you have to take into account. These marines are dealing with matters of life and death. They do not have the luxury of thinking that someone else will fix it.
We don't have that luxury either when it comes to maintaining a habitable planet for our children. Fortunately, there is a strong and growing undercurrent in society that does want change. More farmers keen to make their farms more sustainable. European politicians eager to turn the tide. Businesses pioneering sustainable solutions. But is it enough? Do you - like me - sometimes get overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge? Possibly. But we must tackle this now. The good news is that we can do it, even within the financial sector! I am reminded of the first wind turbine financed by Triodos. We chose to take ownership and not compromise. Nowadays wind farms have become a classic investment. And once more, we are focusing on funding other innovative technologies.
It's not an impossible task; we can do it
The extreme ownership taken by the Navy SEALs may sound a bit intense. But the important message is everyone must do what is in their power instead of burying their heads in the sand. That means working together to achieve an accelerated transition to renewable energy and a carbon-neutral society. There is no blueprint or new technology with the solution yet. But opportunities are already there. For example, by planting new forests, you can take CO2 out of the air naturally. We are exploring how we can make these types of initiatives investable so that investors can support targeted sustainable transitions. There is still some way to go, but we can achieve this, just like we did with our investments in wind turbines. Increasing the share of renewable energy went hand in hand with delivering robust returns.
We have consistently shown that it is possible to initiate positive change, within a sound investment model. This means the financial sector no longer has an excuse. Take action! Don't focus on what you have to give up now but consider what sacrifices future generations will have to make if we, as an industry, don't take responsibility.