Ontario Teachers' sustainable investing head welcomes anti-ESG views

Anna Murray offers up a surprising take on the US-led backlash

Ontario Teachers' sustainable investing head welcomes anti-ESG views
Steve Randall

Canada remains a market where sustainable investing and ESG are not only embraced but growing, so some may be surprised that a senior leader at a major institutional investor is welcoming anti-ESG sentiment.

Anna Murray is global head of sustainable investing at Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and has been taking part in the Fiduciary Investors Symposium this week. At the event at the University of Toronto she said that those leading the backlash against ESG, which has been gathering pace in the United States, are actually helping the sustainable investing sector.

She told attendees that anti-ESG sentiment has forced the industry to remove labels and evolving the discussion around responsible and sustainable investing. This includes being less focused on backwards-looking metrics such as emissions intensity when measuring progress.

Murray said she is “hoping to see the discussion starts to evolve more to include the ability to identify and capture these investment opportunities, as opposed to just focusing on the emissions portfolio reduction.”

Murray was part of a roundtable discussion at the Top1000funds.com event alongside Jane Ambachtsheer, global head of sustainability at BNP Paribas; Hendrik du Toit, founder and CEO at investment manager Ninety One; and David Bell, executive director at the Conexus Institute.

Du Toit told the event that the finance industry has missed an opportunity.

“We as an industry are collectively incredibly stupid sometimes,” he said. “We had a decade or five years of literally free money – what did we do with that? We threw it at tech we don’t really need to use,” he said.

A recent survey by Mackenzie Investments revealed that one quarter of Canadian investors who took part in the Pollara Strategic Insights survey already hold sustainable investments, while 45% plan to do so within the next two years. Although just 33% of respondents who work with a financial advisor have discussed sustainable investing with them.

However, south of the border some of the biggest names on Wall Street have eased back on their ESG focus amid accusations of engaging in ‘woke capitalism’ from some Republicans and several leading financial firms, including JPMorgan, State Street, and Pimco recently withdrawing from Climate Action 100+.