Photo: FT

Tessa Tennant wins Lifetime Achievement Award

11/06/2018 co-founder Tessa Tennant has been awarded the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the Financial Times / IFC Transformational Business Awards, the ‘Oscars’ of the sustainable business and finance world.  This follows her appointment as an OBE in the UK government’s honours system earlier in 2018.  The award will be named after Tessa when presented from time to time in the future.

The award was presented by James Cameron, Chair of ODI, who cited the following examples of leadership and innovations among Tessa’s achievements in a more than three decades long engagement with climate change issues:

Tessa Tennant has been active in green and climate finance all her career. As one of the first Human Environmental Studies graduates at Kings College London, she began by working for the Green Alliance, developing the conversation around ‘green growth’.  She went on to co-found the UK’s first green investment fund, the Merlin (now Jupiter) Ecology Fund, in 1988 and has worked to build the green investment industry ever since.  In the 1990s, she co-founded the UK Social Investment Forum and the UNEP Insurance Initiative, which later merged with UNEP’s banking group to form the UNEP Finance Initiative.  She led the creation, and was first Chair, of the Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia based in Hong Kong (ASRiA, now part of PRI), and The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which works with 3,000 of the largest corporations in the world to reduce their carbon emissions.
She has served on numerous fund, company and not-for-profit boards, including the US Calvert Funds, Syntao Green Finance (current) and is an Adviser to Carbon Tracker, and other initiatives.  She was a co-founder and first Chair of The Ice Organisation, creator of, which rewards green consumerism, and was a Non-Executive Director of the UK’s Green Investment Bank, now the Green Investment Group.  She is now focused on financing the Paris climate agreement NDCs and is co-creator of the Climate Finance Accelerator and 
Photo: FT
Responding as she accepted the award, Tessa gave an edited version of the full remarks printed below.  Official videos will be released shortly by the award organisers, but you can see a phone-camera recording here


Ladies and Gentlemen

I think it’s something to do with being the third child which makes me more adventurous, wanting to do new things and make them work.  By the time they get to number three, parents have… lost the will to live. No I don’t mean that… much… but I do mean that many of their views and expectations about child-rearing have softened or disappeared.. and if there’s a fourth child, then the last two are left to get on with it, making their own way in the world.  That’s how it seems to me, mine was a far less controlled childhood than that of my older sisters and if there’s one bit of advice I’d give to anyone embarking on family, it’s to set the children free as much as you can!  That doesn’t mean that manners and discipline aren’t important!

So in the seventies, it seemed odd when even my parents reacted to the news that their 18year old was heading off to South America with a girlfriend for 10 months travel on a bare bones budget.  Similarly, I just didn’t believe a friend who, on hearing of my plans to set up a socially responsible investment facility in Hong Kong said “but you’ll end up in a body-bag at the bottom of Victoria Harbour”.

When it becomes evident that some bit of the green finance jigsaw needs filling, I can’t not step in to try and make it happen, come what may.

In 1989 there was an FT Editorial which included the memorable line:

The days when business decisions can be taken in a total moral and ethical vacuum are numbered.

That small sentence says so much.  It was triggered by the launch of MIGIT.  Things were very different then:

  • The role of Financial Services was absent from the global sustainable development policy discourse.
  • ESG disclosure levels were shockingly low or non-existent
  • There was lax corporate governance and little in the way of published standards for best practice
  • The word ‘green’ was dangerous!

Things have changed for the better but there’s still lots more to do.. to support enterprises such as those showcased today.. to make sustainable enterprise the norm, not the exception.

For instance, project financiers could do way more to work with governments and businesses at earlier stages in the development cycle to help make financing smarter while also learning the skills and techniques of impact investors.  This is a BIG topic and this is not the moment for a deep dive.  My point is simply to say we need project financiers and impact investors fully involved to have any chance of a rapid deployment of the NDC commitments under the Paris climate Agreement, as well as the other SDGs.

A data point: In my lifetime, atmospheric CO2 emissions have increased by almost one third.  You could say that my colleagues and myself have totally failed because of the unblinking CO2 trend.  But CO2 levels are so intertwined in human and planetary existence it’s bound to take a while to get the systems sorted.. 30 years is a gnats hiccough in geological time.  So it’s been a total joy to have played a small part in making the changes and institutions needed for a greener world.

The IFC has always been a bulwark in that quest – sometimes to be challenged but often showing leadership.  And as for the FT.  It’s the one near constant throughout my life, never avowedly green (thank goodness!) but mostly embracing at least the resource limitation perspective as part if its intellectual paradigm.  So the news, commentary and features are a ‘must have’!  We are incredibly lucky to have the FT, especially in the political madness of the last three years, and I am deeply, deeply honoured to be given their first lifetime achievement award.

I want to thank Jeff Wagner for championing the idea alongside other colleagues. And I want to thank all the people in my life who’ve given me breaks to make things happen and supported me in incredible ways. Progress takes teamwork, so it’s not just me.  Here’s to acknowledging many more people unfrightened of challenging the status quo and dedicated to making a better world.

Thanks to you all for listening.


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