Have we learnt anything in the past year? Colleagues in the information industry are eager to tell me about the speed of change quickening , of “ digital transformation “ ( whatever that might now mean ) gathering pace and of  boardrooms seriously embracing “ a digital-first future “ . They undoubtedly speak truth . Yet I still wonder about the impact of another revelation – when change lets rip , everything in our society can get changed in a very short time indeed . Last January Covid 19 was a single paragraph report in the “ other news “ section of most newspapers  concerning a new type of flu found the previous month in the Wuhan meat market . Today the death count is in millions . No doubt , tracking the history of corona virus  infections , we could build a very considerable back story , but at the moment I see a clear parallel in the information marketplaces . Innovation in digital networks is so often like this . Ignored , derided and underestimated for years , then gaining acceptance on a specific use basis , then , like a virus , rapidly spreading through whole populations who were previously unaware that they would ever be adherents or users . 

Then lets turn to the other great challenge , for many the much larger and more important challenge – climate change . Is that going to behave in the way that I have suggested above ? Will we go on denying , minimising and covertly ignoring the problem , until at the end it becomes an overwhelming and tragic problem in which we are rushing at short term solutions to save lives and livelihoods . At least , having waited for the fires to rage and the sea levels to begin to rise , there are now signs of more co-ordinated actions , and of a switch in thinking . The language tells the story . At length we are turning from negativity around development into talking the way the UN has long tried to frame for us , and defining and supporting sustainable development goals . At length investors seem convinced that ethical investment makes sense , and not just in social terms but also in business terms . The ESG – Environmental -Social – Governance – movement is taking shape and has become recognised as an investment category of real interest and durability. A community is growing here – but how does it express itself as a community? 

Where is the LinkedIn of social and environmental investment and concern ? Well , it is there but is under-invested itself in terms of the size of the opportunity . It is called We Don’t Have Time. ( wedonthavetime.org). It was created  by  a Swedish not-for-profit foundation almost two years ago . Now with help and investment from Noah Advisors , led by Marco Rodzynek , they are moving rapidly to fill the gap , raise new funds , and commercially relaunch to meet what many see as a huge opportunity . LinkedIn of course has huge numbers of climate concerned individuals , scientists and businesses already . But the B2B site seems at once too generalist and  yet not generalist enough – it attracts many of the right people but needs a more B2C approach to grasp the breadth of the issues involved and the public involvement needed .  WDNT sees clearly that it needs to act as a forum for updating environmental and market information , and it needs to guide users ,in a place where where information quantity  far outstrips any notion of its credibility and reliability, as to what makes sense . With a  core of critical scientists and environmentalists on board already , and 50 m Twitter responses last year , it has made a good start . 

One thing seems central to all this . Building sustainability will be governed , in the end , by the availability of better and better data . Trying to build a value chain for ESG investments is difficult – project certification is still in its infancy , the ratings of investments currently available to both public and institutional investors are fragile . Why do investors think more highly of Sustainylitics risk ratings than they do of Thomson Reuters ESG scores ? So little pooled judgement is yet available that consensual views are hard to find , and the reasoning behind them even harder to rationalise . Since there is only $2 billion so far invested we clearly have a lot more to learn . As sustainability solutions build on the site we shall undoutedly learn more . Yet , as the site title suggests , we really do not have much time. 

Marco Rodzynek boldly pronounced to his investors meeting that “ Sustainability is the new Digital “. For that to be true digital has to bring its values to the ESG sector in short order . WDHT needs to become a data hub for investors around the promising data areas of compliance and project certification , as well as around ratings and investment assessment . These are the sorts of areas that will eventually create commercial success for the venture . As these things develop WDHT will have to trade on being the point of exchange for the validation , assessment  and endorsement of news from the climate change frontline . Given the bewildering inconsistency of reporting , using the critical faculties of its members to this end will be an achievement in its own right . The Investment round sponsored by Noah Advisers ends on 31 January . (Noah-advisors.com) ( johannes.luiga@wedonthavetime.org)


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