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Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

Living in a sustainable way was a feature of my household long before it became part of the mainstream culture.

Friday, May 3rd 2024, 10:51AM

by Mint Asset Management

By Rachel Tinkler, Head of Responsible Investment

One of my earliest memories is sitting at the kitchen table, chatting with my dad, as I helped him strip out the plastic windows of envelopes so only the paper part was put in the recycling bin. I also recall constantly being told to put on a jumper or some socks rather than turn the heating on (although this may have been frugality!). And my three brothers and I would grumble about whose turn it was to take the food scraps out to the composting bin.

Not only did my parents set an example for our family on the environmental side, but on the social side too. My dad chooses to work with some of Aotearoa’s poorest families, giving up a more lucrative role in a more affluent area. My mum sees only the good in people, no matter how marginalized they’ve been by society and helps them through their toughest times with no expectation of recompense.

My extended family are of a similar ilk. I have an Aunty and Uncle who will cycle the length of the country in lieu of taking a flight. Their son devotes endless hours to the protection of our endangered Kiwi bird, despite the lack of resources applied to this crucial work. Another cousin has co-founded FTM Motion¹, a company focused on ‘greening’ kiwis’ commutes with the Street Dog, a New Zealand-made electric moped.

With these sources of inspiration, you may be unsurprised to learn that I did not last long in a corporation after finishing my degree at uni. Feeling like I had no impact on improving people’s lives, I left my corporate role to instead volunteer at TEARFund and at a community law center. It was here that I was recommended a book called God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker. This is a tough, confronting read about an undercover investigator’s experiences infiltrating the sex trafficking industry as he works to save victims and prosecute offenders. Another key influence on me at that time was Project Drawdown by Paul Hawken, which shares collective wisdom about the practices and technologies that can begin to reverse climate change – some of them are solutions you can implement or contribute to right now as an individual. Despite these sources providing me with inspiration, I felt frustrated in the non-profit sector as the improvements we sought to make were not at the scale that I’d hoped for.

The scale factor led me back into the corporate world, and I sought out a role where I could have meaningful and tangible impact. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, this led me into the investment world. While not historically a beacon of ethical and altruistic conduct, the investment world has begun to recognize the power it has to make positive improvements to our environment and our communities via the deployment of capital.

At Mint Asset Management, we manage investments on behalf of institutions and individuals. We allocate this capital in public markets by buying shares in predominantly NZ-listed equities. This gives us a seat at the table and influence over New Zealand’s largest institutions. We can choose to invest in companies that are behaving responsibly, and we can use our influence to encourage (sometimes cajole) companies to behave better.

What is important to remember is that corporations are a lot like individuals. Implementing sustainable practices into our day-to-day lives can feel daunting and there are so many competing objectives and demands. Ranking what activities are important and which to address first can be challenging, and each individual and corporation will make differing moral judgements with respect to the issues they face.

I try to live as sustainably as possible, but there is always more I can do. I bus to work, but I could lower my footprint even further by cycling. I recycle everything I possibly can (you’ll find soft plastics washed and hanging to dry on my clothes horse, ready for depositing at my local supermarket), but I could do more to reduce my plastics use in the first place. And I’m writing this as I sit on a flight over to Sydney. I don’t travel often, but I do prioritise attending the Responsible Investing Association Australasia’s Conference each year. The learnings and connections from attending in person will pay dividends over and above the emissions cost.

However, I’ve been trying to live by the motto ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good’. Even small incremental changes can deliver good. Waiting to be ‘perfect’ means missing out on marginal improvements, even if they might feel small.

And it is a motto that I bring forward into my work evaluating and assessing companies. We aim high and attempt to drive material change but will also seek out small improvements.

These changes have come at the company level where our engagements have pushed a NZ telecom company to block domains identified as being entirely made up of CSAM content (Child Sexual Abuse Material). Another example is a domestic energy company, where not long after our interactions with them on a subsidiary (an Israeli software company with a division involved in defence software systems), they announced their intention to divest from their holding. We voted against the appointment of the Chair of a ASX biotech company whose board composition did not reflect sufficient gender diversity. These are a few of many examples of where we have spoken to, engaged with, voted for (or against) companies in the interests of driving better governance, environmental or social outcomes. 

We have also pressed for change beyond the corporate world too by engaging with the Government, as we did in the recent investor letter urging the government to introduce Modern Slavery legislation².

We try to be a responsible company ourselves too, not least to be authentic in our discussions with investee companies asking them to do the same. We’re in our third year of Toitū reporting – but as business returns to usual post Covid, we’re seeing a significant increase in our air travel emissions. Balancing the need to visit clients and investee companies by reducing our footprint is a challenge and we are realistic about this same challenge and many others for our investee companies too. We’ve introduced food composting and I audit this and our recycling bins in the office fastidiously for compliance – and it’s often not perfect.

All these efforts, both big and small, whether as an individual, as a company or as an investor, do make a difference. Only focusing on a perfect outcome often means missing smaller opportunities to drive improvements which when summed together do add up to a bigger difference than when viewed in isolation.

And now a challenge for you! What are some small (or big) changes you could make that might not be perfect but still move in the direction of good. Project Drawdown can provide some ideas, such as eating a few more vegetarian meals a week. Maybe you could take a reusable coffee cup with you for your daily coffee. Or travel by bus or train to work instead of driving – even just one day a week to start. Perhaps you can contribute your time to a cause close to your heart.

No matter how small, whatever you choose to do can have an impact. And maybe the next time someone asks what prompted you to think more sustainably, you’ll recall this article – and you’ll pass on the call to action.

 

¹https://www.ftnmotion.com

²https://www.mintasset.co.nz/news/mint-spearheads-letter-to-the-government-addressing-modern-slavery-legislation/

 


Disclaimer: Rachel Tinkler is the Head of Responsible Investment. The above article is intended to provide information and does not purport to give investment advice.

Mint Asset Management is the issuer of the Mint Asset Management Funds. Download a copy of the product disclosure statement.

Mint Asset Management is an independent investment management business based in Auckland, New Zealand. Mint Asset Management is the issuer of the Mint Asset Management Funds. Download a copy of the product disclosure statement at mintasset.co.nz

Tags: Mint Asset Management

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