Welcome to the Era of the Activist Accountant

Created by David McWilliams

Accountants turned activists? In an unexpected modern tale, activist accountants have become vital advocates towards standardizing 'ESG' risks

Click to read Moral Money for free for 30 days, our twice-weekly email on socially responsible business.

Discover

Popular videos & articles

MMWeek 8_BRANDEDARTICLE_Hero.jpg
by Morgan Stanley
Scaling innovative ideas for a sustainable world

The collaboration with a cohort of start-ups addressing the world’s most pressing environmental issues – and simultaneously solving multiple problems

A motorcycle courier turns up on a quiet residential street in a Jakarta neighbourhood, shortly after receiving a family’s delivery request via smartphone. Door-to-door services in the Indonesian capital often mean fast food, handed over in plastic packaging. But on this morning, the courier is dispensing washing-up liquid and laundry detergent directly into bottles provided by the family.

Siklus, the start-up behind the service, has two related goals: to reduce plastic waste in a country that is already the world’s second largest plastic ocean polluter; and to help poor families, who typically buy household products in disposable plastic sachets because of their low unit price but can actually cost more per ounce of product.

“The families are no longer paying for the packaging, and we’re reducing plastic waste at the source,” says Jane von Rabenau, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “Customers order through our app, and our entire distribution system, report transactions, the data we collect, it all works using technology.” The result, at scale, will be a significant reduction in the plastic waste spoiling Indonesian waterways and way of life.

The Winning ideas

Siklus is one of five organizations from around the world selected this year by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing that are working on solutions to some of the world’s complex sustainability challenges, from climate change and waste reduction to equitable health care and food insecurity. They are: mPharma, MySOC, Siklus, SunCulture and Trees As Infrastructure.

Through the Institute’s Sustainable Solutions Collaborative, each of the five will receive $250,000 to help scale their business. They will also enter a year-long partnership with the Institute, becoming part of a growing network of Morgan Stanley leaders and partner organisations that facilitate cross-sector collaboration on the most urgent sustainability issues.

“We want to identify and help scale business as unusual,” says Audrey Choi, Chief Sustainability Officer and CEO of the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing. “To support the ideas that aim for more than incremental change towards sustainability – ideas that have the power to be transformative at the systems level.”

This past year has revealed with brutal clarity the intersection between a global health crisis, climate crisis and systemic social injustice. It has also made clearer than ever the moral imperative to seek out new solutions. The collaborative aims to find innovations that can help drive solutions at a systemic level. The approach echoes that of Dame Ellen MacArthur, a leading force in sustainability, whose vision is for a circular economy, one she has called “a much bigger idea than recycling”. Rather, she says, what is needed is "systemic change and restructuring the global economy”. Each Morgan Stanley winner carries that vision forward, often solving multiple problems at once with their innovations.

Seeking scale and transformation

MySOC, a project of Skidmore College in New York State and Michigan State University, which uses technology and science to undertake detailed and strategic sampling of soil, giving farmers a more complete picture of their land and how their farming techniques affect the soil’s carbon levels.

“We're able to change the way that our agricultural system works by adopting regenerative practices that can, at the same time, pull a whole bunch of carbon out of the atmosphere and put it into our soils,” explains Kristofer Covey, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Skidmore College. “But we need to quantify which practices lead to how much carbon.”

MySOC – standing for My Soil Organic Carbon – deploys technology not only to measure those carbon levels, but also to feed them into a platform, allowing for comparison of different fields, and increasing farming yields. Ultimately, according to MySOC, the data could even form the basis of a market in which farmers are rewarded depending on how much carbon capture their techniques produce.

SunCulture, a Kenyan start-up, uses green technology and inclusive finance to solve a different problem in agriculture: how to improve livelihoods of small-scale farmers while making their techniques both more sustainable and more resilient to climate change.

“About a quarter of the world's population falls into these small farming households,” says Samir Ibrahim, the start-up’s CEO and co-founder. “Because climate change is making unpredictable and unreliable rains even more unpredictable and unreliable, small farmers are getting pushed further and further into poverty.”

SunCulture’s response was to start Africa’s first solar irrigation company, using solar-powered pumps to deliver consistent and reliable water for crops and animals. “It helps farmers become more resilient to climate change, and it helps feed families, communities and the world,” says Ibrahim. Using solar technology to power the water pumps that irrigate their fields, they are also providing clean drinking water for families, and drastically reducing the efforts necessary to secure water – eliminating the need for hours of manual work, and the traditional, labour-intensive conveyance of water from wells.

The other two winners of the Collaborative are reimagining healthcare in Africa and positioning trees and green space as a critical asset to cities and urban areas, rather than a cost or a luxury. mPharma is a Ghana-based health-tech startup that is revolutionizing the drug supply chain in Africa using the tools that make e-commerce convenient and profitable to make health care accessible and affordable. Trees As Infrastructure, an open source platform by Dark Matter Labs, based in the UK and operating across Europe, is establishing nature as a critical part of urban infrastructure, alongside bridges, roads and rail, enabling investment, profitability and sustainability.

If the pandemic laid bare the interconnectivity of the global health crisis, climate crisis and systemic social injustice, it will now take the combined efforts of companies large and small, non-profits and government agencies responding to the climate crisis to mitigate the outcomes we clearly now face. Innovation born of technological advances, a rethinking of business as usual, and a strong vision for change are key parts of the puzzle, and these hopeful, inventive ventures can be an inspiration for us all.

MEET THE 2021 MORGAN STANLEY SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS COLLABORATIVE WINNERS

DISCLOSURES

All material [on this website] prepared by Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC and/or Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, Members SIPC (collectively "Morgan Stanley") has been prepared for informational purposes only and is not a solicitation of any offer to buy or sell any security or other financial instrument or to participate in any trading strategy. Unless otherwise stated, the material was not prepared by the Morgan Stanley’s Research Departments and is not a Research Report as defined under FINRA regulations. The material does not provide individually tailored investment advice. It has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who read it. Readers should determine, in consultation with their own investment, legal, tax, regulatory and accounting advisors, the eco-nomic risks and merits, as well as the legal, tax, regulatory and accounting characteristics and consequences, of any transaction or strategy referenced in any materials. The appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor's individual circumstances and objectives. Morgan Stanley, its affiliates and Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. Individuals should consult their tax advisor for matters involving taxation and tax planning and their attorney for matters involving legal matters. The material may contain forward looking statements and there can be no guarantee that they will come to pass.

Information contained in the material is based on data from multiple sources and Morgan Stanley makes no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of data from sources outside of Morgan Stanley. References to third parties contained here-in should not be considered a solicitation on behalf of or an endorsement of those entities by Morgan Stanley. Morgan Stanley is not responsible for the information contained on the third party web site or your use of or inability to use such site, nor do we guarantee its accuracy or completeness. The terms, conditions, and privacy policy of any third party web site may be different from those applicable to your use of any Morgan Stanley web site. The opinions expressed by the author of an article written by a third party are solely his/her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Morgan Stanley. Professional designations mentioned in the articles may or may not be approved for use at Morgan Stanley. The information and data provided by the third party web site or publication is as of the date of the article when it was written and is subject to change without notice.

Past performance is not a guarantee or indicative of future performance.

Investing in the market entails the risk of market volatility. The value of all types of investments may increase or decrease over varying time periods. The returns on a portfolio consisting primarily of sustainable or impact investments may be lower or higher than a portfolio that is more diversified or where decisions are based solely on investment considerations. Because sustainability and impact criteria exclude some investments, investors may not be able to take advantage of the same opportunities or market trends as investors that do not use such criteria.

Diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against loss in a declining financial market.

© 2021 Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC. and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. Members SIPC. CRC 3691211 08/21.

Discover more content on the topics that inspire, engage and inform the world we live in today at the FT Channels hub.