Photo: Kelly Riggs

Tributes Flow in for Pioneer of Green Finance


On June 28th,  at an inspiring evening hosted by Aviva, more than 200 people celebrated the character and career of Tessa Tennant, and the progress made in green finance over the past 30 years.  All too soon after, we heard the sad news of Tessa’s death from cancer on July 7.

As many speakers at the June event noted, Tessa Tennant was a true pioneer, combining the four key characteristics required to deserve that description: vision, bravery, persistence and the ability to bring others along with you into unknown or even dangerous territory.

Many others spoke of her legacy. Steve Waygood of Aviva directly traced Tessa’s input to reforms to the UK Pensions Act in 1998 to the formation of what’s now PRI, a global gathering of institutional investors with some $70 trillion in assets under management.   Yulanda Chung, who left a successful career in journalism in the early 2000s to follow Tessa into the then newly formed AsrIA (Association for Sustainable & Responsible Investment in Asia), said that “TCFD is really just the Carbon Disclosure Project 15 years on”.

Tessa Tennant Lifetime Achievement Award
Tessa Tennant receives her IFC/FT Lifetime Achievement Award, June 6 2018 Photo: FT

A new legacy was created on the evening itself, which culminated in the announcement that the inaugural FT / IFC Lifetime Achivement Award presented to Tessa on June 6 would hereafter be named in her honour. Making the announcement, Jeff Wagner of the Financial Times said the decision had been made because of Tessa’s own inputs to shaping the awards (where she was one of the first judges) and the achievements of her career, which he said “constitute a coherent body of work”.  The FT / IFC Transformational Business Awards are the ‘Oscars’ of the sustainable finance world and Wagner said that the new award “will be given from time to time to people who really deserve it”.

A “Paris Finance Community”

In the past few years, Tessa had been focussed on finance to support the Paris climate agreement. With typically acute foresight, she had spotted that no one was focussed on how the projects needed to achieve the goals of Paris would be financed, and that if the money promised for mitigation and adaptation needs in poorer countries didn’t materialise, trust would soon break down. (Sadly, the recent governance meltdown at the Green Climate Fund indicates that process may already have started.)

In line with Tessa’s mantra of the need to bring people together to move things forward at a practical level, she and I co-founded the blog  as a kind of “proto-community” for those involved in financing to support Paris. The last thing we worked on was a plan to expand the scope of this community.  Please read David Saddington’s accompanying piece on this, and give us any comments or suggestions as to how this expansion might be funded

Tributes from Far and Wide

What follows in this article are some extracts from the first obituaries that have appeared since Tessa’s death.  I preface these with the reproduction below of an extract from a memo written by Tessa about the Merlin Ecology Fund, the first SRI fund, launched by her in 1988. What she writes there encapsulates an enduring vision that “green investment” can not only be successful in financial terms but also deliver a range of other goods.  It also foreshadows developments such as the share activism and climate disclosure movements and. As a summary of what sustainable finance can achieve, these words remain relevant three decades on.

From Environmental Finance

Tessa Tennant, a pioneer of the responsible investment industry, and a good friend of Environmental Finance, has died of cancer at the age of 59.

Her many accomplishments include co-founding the UK’s first green investment fund – the Merlin (now Jupiter) Ecology Fund – in 1988; the UK Social Investment Forum; the Carbon Disclosure Project; the UNEP Insurance Initiative; the Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia (ASrIA, now part of PRI); and The Ice Organisation, which rewards green consumerism.

From the sales material for the Merlin Ecology Fund, 1988

She also served on the board of several funds, companies and not-for-profits, including the US Calvert Social Funds, the UK’s Green Investment Bank, and Syntao Green Finance in China, and on the advisory board of the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI).

Following the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, she devoted much of her time to, which aims to help translate countries’ emission reduction commitments into investment-ready projects, and the Climate Finance Accelerator.

Many of these initiatives evolved from discussions with like-minded friends and colleagues over the dining table in Glen House, her home in the Scottish Borders.

Environmental Finance benefitted directly from her enthusiasm and insights during discussions with the founders back in 1999 when the publication was still at the concept stage. She remained a valued contact and sounding board.

Among numerous honours, she received the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) this year, and in June was awarded the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in the Financial Times/IFC Transformational Business Awards.

“Everyone who works in the responsible investment industry has her to thank for their jobs,” said Steve Waygood, chief responsible investment officer at Aviva Investors. One of her most significant achievements, he noted, was the 1998 reform of the UK Pensions Act. As a result of Tessa’s pressure, this reform required defined benefit pension schemes to set out policies on ethical, social and environmental issues, he noted.

That “inspired a whole wave of supply of socially responsible investment funds,” and was subsequently replicated in many other countries, Waygood added.

In addition to her imagination, charm and determination, she was also brave. When running the Ecology Fund, she had to fight her ground against Jupiter founder John Duffield – frequently described in the City as ‘a colourful character’ – and when heading to Hong Kong to set up ASrIA, she shrugged off a friend’s warning that: “you’ll end up in a body-bag at the bottom of Victoria Harbour”.

To celebrate the life of Tessa Tennant and others working in ‘green finance’, a sculpture is to be commissioned in the City of London “to inspire the finance community … and become a focal point as it looks to fully green its investments in people and planet”.

For further information, see:

Other tributes:

Paul Dickinson, founder and executive chair of CDP:

“Tessa Tennant was co-founder and the first chair of CDP. She took an initial idea through to a fully-fledged global NGO in just a few years. Today CDP operates worldwide with more than 6,000 corporations and over 500 cities reporting annually on their environmental performance.

“She taught the CDP team that finance had a unique ‘bird’s-eye view’ over the whole economy, and therefore was perfectly positioned to make strategic intervention in the thought processes regarding the way companies are governed. Her belief that the financial system was not ‘values free’ has grown and flowered to the point where both leading investors and regulators across the world agree with her analysis.

“Her global reputation was built on a huge appetite for work as well great understanding of what needs to be done to avoid exposing both our own, as well as future generations, to tremendous risks. She was a very kind, thoughtful, encouraging role model who nurtured the individuals around her. She deeply touched all those she met and is irreplaceable.”

Alexandra Tracy, president of Hong Kong–based Hoi Ping Ventures and former chair of ASrIA

Tessa was responsible for my introduction to sustainable finance. As a former project finance banker, whose speciality was fossil fuel generation, I was initially sceptical … The Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia, which Tessa founded in 2001, not only won me over, but also led the way in educating investors across the region about the need to change behaviour. I was privileged later to follow in her footsteps as chairman of ASrIA, during which period her continued enthusiasm, expertise and warmth inspired us all.

James Cameron, former Baker & McKenzie barrister and founder of Climate Change Capital:

Tessa was a much-loved friend and ally. She had a wonderful, purposeful, energy; she was persuasive, authentic and credible. When she called, you paid attention. She would ask you to do what you can to help, and you would.  To take just one example, when I was advising the Moroccan Presidency of COP22, Tessa asked for an introduction to the finance minister. She came to see me mid-negotiations in our hectic Presidency adviser’s office, made the connection, built on it and, with the help of her colleagues and the UK government, brought Morocco into the NDCi fold so that, ultimately, substantial financial resources flowed to the sustainable development of that country.

By Graham Cooper

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From Business Green

[Following her work in fund management in the 80s and 90s], since the turn of the century Tessa Tennant was perhaps best known as a campaigner, co-founding the hugely influential CDP in 2000 and playing a role in the launch of the Carbon Tracker think tank. Towards the end of her life she was working on a new project exploring how to finance the commitments country’s had made in their climate action plans under the Paris Agreement.

In a moving post on her website that was sadly to be her last, Tennant revealed in May that her cancer had returned last year, but she had “decided not to tell anyone because I didn’t want to cause unnecessary concern when I still felt very well, and I didn’t want the issue to get in the way of work”.

“I stopped work at the end of 2017 and have spent the spring, if you can call it that, getting used to my new limitations,” she added. “I am SO slow.. and have to sleep for large amounts of the day. As you know, this is so not me! And it’s been a struggle to come to terms with my situation. But, I’ve had my ‘one in a billion, Billiam’ as my constant companion and Euan my son, and am truly blessed to have so much love and support around me.”

Mark Campanale, the co-founder of Carbon Tracker who worked with Tennant throughout much of her career, said she boasted a remarkable record of achievement and left a huge legacy.

“Tessa had this remarkable ability to get important people to pay attention to what she had to say; and what she said was always visionary but timely,” he said. “She did things, looking back now, that were years ahead of their time. Next February, we would have celebrated 30 years of working together, but that now is sadly not to be.”

He also said that Tennant had the wonderful ability to bring people together to drive real progress.

The famous kitchen table at Glen House, where initiatives such as CDP and CarbonTracker were cooked up

“Tessa brought around her lots of fun and smart people and used Glen House, her Scottish base, as a unique environment to explore ideas,” he said. “The origins of CDP and Carbon Tracker can be found in conversations around Tessa’s kitchen table. Tessa wanted to make an impact, to work with others to make an impact and, travel with them to see it happen. Always driven but in a really fun way.

“Martin Luther King once said ‘the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice’. Tessa found that moral arc in the financial world and championed causes in sustainable finance that helped bend that arc, always with the purpose of making for those around her, a much better world.”

By James Green

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Responsible investors around the world have lost a powerful advocate, force for good and persuasive fighter.  Tessa Tennant fought for universal human dignity and ecological sustainability with every fiber of her body, travelling globally to advocate and encourage responsible investment practices, respectable corporate behavior and personal responsibility.  She was also a friend.

I first met Tessa in 1987 when she interned at Franklin Research & Development (now Trillium), seeking to learn from Joan Bavaria and her team.  Though it was a difficult period for her personally, she dove into the waters of our field with great enthusiasm and distinction.

Let me share two short vignettes of Tessa.  In 1999 she and I were called to Tokyo by Mizue Tsukushi, CEO of The Good Bankers, to meet with management of Mitsubishi with the goal of persuading them not to build a salt factory on a remote beach in Mexico. The meeting was fascinating for many reasons, but the sight of the tall, steely eyed, Tessa, with her curly mop, rigidly repeating her position, was seared into my memory. She stated the value of the pristine lands, including as whale nurseries, and that honor would accrue to the firm if they saw this.  I do not know why Mitsubishi abandoned the plan (at least for a while), but I suspect it was Tessa’s directness.

Then there was the time in Thailand where we met with several business owners who wanted to launch a network of responsible businesses.  My talk was rather a diatribe on the depth and breadth of the issues they faced, hers was a gracious acknowledgement that we start where we start, and the importance of taking that first step.  Afterwards she admonished me, “If you want them to do what they can, don’t begin by making a list of demands.” She was elegant in her rebuke, and right.

The world has lost a remarkable person.  We owe it to her to continue her work.

By Amy Domini

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From Responsible Investor

Tennant read Environmental Studies at the [King’s College] London and on her LinkedIn profile had this to say about [her time at Kings] and this “formative” course. “Watched the scrap between different faculties over its development… Science won over humanities, disappointing. Set up the Rock ‘n Roll dance club, joined Shell’s amateur dramatics society and we won the Lewisham Arts Festival prize with a potted version of Under Milkwood.”

[Apart from here work in fund management and advocacy], Tessa Tennant held many other roles, including directorships at SynTao, the SRI firm in China, solar firm Solar Century and the UK’s Green Investment Bank. She was an advisor to the SRI Committee at Oxford University Investments.

“Tessa was someone to whom it was impossible to say ‘No’,” said Martin Palmer, Secretary General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), the organisation founded by the UK’s Prince Philip in 1995.

“She was so convinced and convincing that turning around the world of finance to be generous to all life on earth was not just possible but was simply what had to happen.” He said her voice would “echo down the years” but “I will miss that energy and her laughter”.

By Daniel Brooksbank, with Vibeka Mair

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A very dear friend of mine passed away this past weekend. Tessa Tennant has often been called the godmother of Sustainable Investing. She created so many organisations that helped build the infrastructure that we have now [including the UK’s first green investment fund in 1988, called the Merlin Ecology Fund.  What were you doing in 1988?  Now everything seems so much easier with respect to Values Based Investing.

Most of us stood on her shoulders, at one time, to get to where we are now. People forget that. It is easy to ride the wave of money flows going into ESG and Impact Investing, occurring now. That was not the case in the 1980’s. We should never forget that. Tessa was the polite, civilised, passionate, determined, terrier that just would not let go once she got her teeth into something. I admired her immensely for that, because it was easy to give up as the forces against ESG and Impact were monumental.

When she decided to quit her job and go to Asia to start the Asian Social Responsible Investing Association, I was happy that she had an important project. What most don’t know about Tessa is that she is frugal (understatement). Lives simply and travels so light that she could fit her carry one in the back of the seat in front of her, where you normally can put your phone or papers. Never understood how she did that.  I visited her in Hong Kong at her “home” which was a shack on the rooftop of apartment. Few realise how simply she lived and how little she took for herself to achieve her goal of changing the mindset of the financial sector in Asia. Totally self-sacrificing.

She was the ultimate mensch. A person of great honour and value, that left the world in a far better place than how she found it.

Tessa, I am sending you one of my best and warmest hugs. I will miss our chats and walks. I can promise you that the Retreats will continue and we are all in your debt. Many are cutting the ribbons for the photo ops, but it was you that dug the holes.

By Robert Rubinstein

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