Impact investing and sustainable finance

Please contact me if this topic interests you as a potential collaborator or graduate student. Funding is available for PhD stipends. 

From 2020 to 2023 as part of an ARC DECRA I’ll be examining how the current framing of biodiversity and natural capital as an “investment opportunity for the private sector” will influence how species, water, land and air are governed, for what purpose, and by whom

Investors are increasingly favouring socially responsible and sustainable investments, which made up 26% of all professionally managed assets in 2016. A growing asset class is conservation finance, which is investment made directly or indirectly to conserve biodiversity, and maintain natural capital stocks including soil, ecosystems, clean air and water. Advocates argue that investment in biodiversity and natural capital is an unparalleled business opportunity for the private sector, which could profitably fund enterprises or projects that directly contribute to meeting global targets under the Convention for Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Although the involvement of private and other non-state actors in the governance of biodiversity and natural capital is not in itself a new phenomenon, the international community is currently on the verge of a new trend finance that has the potential to fundamentally change how biodiversity is governed, for what purpose, and by whom. Emerging financial instruments, including impact bonds, green bonds and “blended” finance, are increasingly favoured by impact investors who seek to generate demonstratable environmental and social impacts alongside a positive financial return.

Impact investing has potential to generate “win-win-wins” for the environment, investors and communities, but there are a lot of unanswered questions around how to effectively operationalize the concept into on-ground outcomes. For example:

  • How can conservation actors adapt to impact investing and the greater accountability measures (performance-based contracts, monitoring, reporting and auditing) that come with it?
  • Will the total funding available for biodiversity conservation increase with greater private sector investment, or will public and philanthropic funding and interest be crowded out?
  • Will greater use of performance-based contracts improve the effectiveness and accountability of biodiversity conservation, or create a perverse incentive to seek out “easy” short-term environmental gains over uncertain long-term outcomes?
  • Can the significant transaction costs identified from the use of impact investing in the development, health and social services sectors be sufficiently overcome?

I’m particularly interested in looking at this issue from the perspective of the financial, agricultural and conservation sectors, and will be pursuing case studies in Australia and overseas. I’ll also draw on lessons learned from my previous and ongoing research into environmental markets.

Blogs and other articles

  • Evans, M.C., 2021. Taking care of business: the private sector is waking up to nature’s value. The Conversation
  • Evans, M., 2020. Why ignoring biodiversity loss is an increasingly risky business. The Canberra Times
  • Evans, M., 2020. The magic of the market won’t help the environment unless government also takes responsibility. The Guardian