A change is in the air

Searching for investments that improve our world and deliver returns. Rathbones Global Sustainability Fund manager David Harrison takes a trip to America.

29 May 2019

In early march, I boarded a plane for Florida to visit what was once one of the most important oil and gas conferences in North America.  This year, sustainable investments were the talk of the place.

The institutional investors conference I attended is not billed as an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) affair. This year I found it was filled with great companies trying to do right for the earth and society as well as investors.

It wasn’t always this way.

For much of its 40 years of life, the conference in the swampy outskirts of Orlando has been a sunny middle ground where moneymen from the East Coast could meet with all manner of companies that always seemed heavy on oil and gas prospectors, whether from the Florida peninsula or the western states.

Over the decades it has developed into a one- stop-shop for investors, giving access to almost 300 companies this year. The conference still hosted many companies that I wouldn’t touch because of their unsustainable practices, but the number of conversations about ESG issues was much, much higher than when I last attended two years ago.

These companies are using technology in extraordinary ways to lessen our impact on the environment, improve our lives and make sustainable profits.

I was pleasantly shocked that just a handful of resources companies attended this year. Virtually no-one was talking about the industry.

Instead, software, healthcare and agriculture boasted the largest crowds of analysts. These companies are using technology in extraordinary ways to lessen our impact on the environment, improve our lives and make sustainable profits.

After the conference, I left the balmy south to visit several companies on their frozen home turf up in Chicago and Milwaukee before dropping in on my brother on the West Coast. Again, I was blown away by how much more attuned US companies are to sustainability compared with only a few years ago. Firms are giving farmers the tools to become laser- efficient with resources, small businesses are investing to reduce water use and massive corporations are trying to reduce their mark on the environment and improve society in their own backyards.

American business people can be some of the most cynical in the world when it comes to money. If they are coming round to sustainability and environmental considerations, anyone can.



Increasingly investors are demanding that companies show they act ethically, source sustainably and don’t abuse the planet. Rathbone Global Sustainability Fund manager David Harrison’s report ' In pursuit of green' shows American companies are starting to take notice. If American companies – some of the most profit-focused businesses on Earth – can be swayed to become sustainable, anyone can.

Visit our 'in pursuit of green' hub.


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