Investing in our Environmental Future
When I first became a journalist back in 1986, environmental issues were only just beginning to gain ground, albeit at what felt like an almost imperceptible pace.
None but the very largest circulation newspapers had a dedicated environmental correspondent and policy-wise the field was very much on the fringes. We have come a long way since then. The Greens in the United Kingdom had only changed their name from the Ecology Party in 1985 but slowly began to build a presence through local and European elections which, in turn, forced more mainstream parties to adopt green policies. The Greens had to wait until 2010, however, before returning its first publicly elected member of parliament.
As the environment has risen up the political agenda, so too it has gained strength in the corporate boardroom. For all the cynicism around “greenwashing,” companies are increasingly beginning to feel that they have no option but to adopt more sustainable practices. The drivers for this are complex and manifold, including pressure from customers and potential employees alike. As these two groups become ever more vocal, business interests have found they have had to move in the same direction. It is unthinkable in the current environment that a Budapest office would be built today without gaining green or wellness certification from one or more of BREEAM, LEED, and WELL, not least because investors demand it, knowing a certified building is easier to let and easier to sell.
In the last few years, ESG (environmental, social, and governance) has begun to trend as a catchall term for green issues influencing the investment community. Indeed, the Hungarian Business Leaders Forum (originally founded in 1992 on the initiative of the United Kingdom’s Prince Charles as the local branch of his Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum) will for the first time host a day-long online conference for regional and local leaders from the Visegrád Group of countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) centered on ESG and socially responsible investment on April 27. The V4 ESG Conference will address key questions about ESG and investment, the ESG classification of stocks, portfolios, and funds, ESG reporting guidelines, and the risks and opportunities arising from the impact of climate change on investments, among other important topics. The Budapest Business Journal is a media sponsor for the event, and I will act as master of ceremonies.
On April 22, the day before this issue of the BBJ was published, the 51st annual Earth Day was marked among other ways in Hungary by the Government Debt Management Agency (ÁKK) issuing its first 30-year forint-denominated green bond (a fixed-income instrument that is specifically earmarked to raise money for climate and environmental projects). ÁKK has said it will issue the green bond quarterly and expects total issuance for the year to come to HUF 90 billion. The National Bank of Hungary, meanwhile, told Reuters on April 12 that it is committed to buying green government bonds under its quantitative easing program “to the extent needed to facilitate stable market conditions.”
We, too, are marking Earth Day by the introduction of a new column called Green Matters, a monthly (at least for now) roundup of environmental issues in Hungary and, to give some greater context, the region. The pandemic has underlined how we need to work together not just in the interests of public health, but also for the well-being of our very planet. You can argue about whether business has been forced into embracing sustainability or did so of its own free will, but that is not nearly as important as the fact that it has done so at all.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of April 23, 2021.
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