Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Almedalen - a unique week of networking in Sweden

During a sun soaked week in July, Swedish politicians, corporate leaders, media, civil society and lobbyists all come together in the medieval town of Visby, a place of boundless charm on the island of Gotland. 

This is Almedalen, Sweden's premier networking event where a spontaneous face to face chat with a minister or a CEO wouldn't be out of place. An example in democracy or a spectacle? Opinions are divided and with over 3000 seminars and events in a week, covering a wide range of issues, it is hard to get through the noise. That doesn't stop any one from trying.. 

CongressEA, represented by Director and Founder Richard Lindberg, was there to gauge the state of the Swedish Impact Investing market in regards to environmental challenges. The climate issue was high on the agenda and there is a real sense of urgency around it in lieu of Paris in 2015. Several hundred seminars focused on the climate and the wider environmental context. From our perspective we identified two very interesting phenomenons that embolden us in our work:

1. The corporate sector is on the move, often voicing its displeasure with politicians acting too slow and thus creating uncertainty in the market. Businesses want clear, ambitious and long term rules for how to adapt to a low carbon economy. They realise that it is a matter of establishing a competitive edge and ultimately survival if they transition successfully. Concepts like natural capital and the circular economy were afforded several seminars of their own with high profile speakers across sectors and large audiences. 

2. Institutional investors took center stage to explain the rationale for continuing to hold carbon heavy assets and how to gradually phase out fossil fuel companies from their portfolios. Unsurprisingly the debate with divestment proponents and environmental groups was lively and at times antagonistic due to different realities and timeframes. What is becoming abundantly clear is that the issue has gone from a purely moral issue to a discussion on risks and long term business cases. Alternative investment strategies that go beyond financial returns were brought to the fore. Investment managers from the large pension funds are more actively looking to minimise the negative impact of the fund but the overall assessment is that much more needs to be done and fast. The viability of Impact Investing in this regard was highlighted by CongressEA in the ensuing discussion and we hope to galvanise action together with major Swedish institutional investors looking to make inroads into the impact investing space. 

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