Can Wall Street become a friend of the earth? For nearly a decade now, most of the big investment and commercial banks have had chief sustainability officers, but it’s never been clear to me what they can and cannot do.
To find out, I spoke recently with Matt Arnold, the head of environmental affairs for JP Morgan Chase, who I’ve known for years. Matt, a lifelong environmentalist, was refreshingly honest.
In my latest column for the Guardian Sustainable Business website, I report on what I learned. Here’s how the story begins:
Deep inside the belly of the beast known as JPMorgan Chase toils a lifelong environmentalist and former Eagle Scout named Matthew Arnold who is trying to help turn the bank, if not green, well, a bit greener. It’s a daunting job.
Arnold, 51, joined the company in autumn 2011 as head of the office of environmental affairs because, he says, of the sheer scale of the opportunity; last year, the bank booked $99.9bn (£64bn) in revenue and $21.3bn (£14bn) in profits, providing credit and raising capital of more than $1.8tn, for everything from home mortgages to credit cards to corporate bonds and IPOs. The bank manages another $1.4bn in assets (as of September 2012) for clients. If Arnold can help steer even a slice of that towards more sustainable ventures – for example, towards wind and solar energy and away from coal – he will be doing his part to make Wall Street a friend of the earth. But can he?
“The position I’m in now has the greatest potential for impact of anything I’ve done,” Arnold says. “Yet there’s no manual for this. There’s not a clear roadmap.”
You can read the rest of the column here.
On Wednesday, by coincidence, at the GreenBiz Forum in New York, I’ll be interviewing Matt and Erika Karp, who is head of global sector research at UBS, to talk about the role of Wall Street in promoting sustainability. Matt and Erika will also be joining us this spring at Fortune Brainstorm Green.