Secrets of the Pioneers: Mark Campanale on why it's okay to get angrier as you get older

Michael Holder
clock • 5 min read

The founder of Carbon Tracker reflects on a decade when the concept of stranded assets found its way on to investors' radar

Mark Campanale is founder of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, and one of the chief architects of the 'unburnable carbon' capital markets thesis, which argues we cannot burn all the proven fossil fuel reserves in the world and avert dangerous global warming.

At Carbon Tracker he is responsible for management strategy, board matters and developing the organisation's capital markets framework analysis. Their goal is to align capital markets with natural ecological limits to growth.

More recently, Mark founded and is Chair of the Fish Tracker Initiative, which focuses on limits to growth in the fisheries space.

Where were you in 2007?

I was at Henderson Global Investors. I'd been one of the founding team in 1994 that had built their Global Care brand of thematic sustainability funds from £10m to over £2bn. From around 2001 Nick Robins and I, the other founder of Carbon Tracker, had started to lecture on our 'stranded assets'/'unburnable carbon' thesis and published the first carbon footprint of an investment fund.

Where do you expect to be in 2027?

By 2027, I'd expect to be continuing to implement some of the ideas in the investment world that I've been developing since the 90's, the first being around more effective capital markets for high social impact enterprises - I founded and incorporated the 'Social Stock Exchange' in June 2007 which is still building out today. And the second being looking at ecosystems limits to how capital markets operate.

So in 2027 I'd hope that capital markets function better to support particularly social enterprises in lesser developed countries; and that how capital markets function respects ecological limits through better transparency and accountability. That is what Carbon Tracker, and more recently Fish Tracker, is really about.

What is the most important lesson you have learned over the past 10 years?

A lot needs to be swept away; let's start with attitudes, institutions, people, positions, market behaviours. New wine often needs new wine skins (I'm stealing a saying from the past).

'Mainstreaming sustainability' in financial markets is a delusional journey whose mission is led by the inexperienced and the naive. I hear it all the time but I've never understood what it meant. 

Don't wait to be led, always take the lead and listen to people younger than you more often than you do; and don't listen to people in positions of power or influence. They're often the first that need sweeping away as they're protecting the status quo (sometimes including their own position).

And here is a lesson to remember: it's okay to get angrier as you get older. A peaceful and untroubled mind is an unproductive mind, maybe a complacent mind.  

Remember in sustainable financial markets, the biggest and most effective changes have occurred when women have been in leadership. So don't surround yourself with guys.  If you do, things often end unhappily.

Lastly, resist people who say 'let me be your boss; I know what you want, better than you do, let me run this for you.'' If they're not a fox, then they're almost certainly a snake. Real partnerships start with standing from the same place and looking together forwards in the same direction.

What is your vision for the green economy in 10 years' time and what do we need to get us there?

We need to find ways of incorporating ecological boundaries into international accounting standards; into the listing rules of companies on stock exchanges, or how companies report through better Integrated Reporting.

So no listing of logging companies or oil palm companies, or fisheries businesses without independent sustainable resource management plans or assessments of ecological limits; no more financing through debt or equity capital markets of fossil fuel companies whose plans take the world above 2 degrees of warming.

And we'll need to make sure that the WTO rules sit beneath the Earth Summit treaty obligations, not the other way around. To get us there, we need fundamental reform of the whole financial architecture of capital markets.

What will be the biggest changes from today's world?

In the future, investors will have learnt that ecological limits can be translated into financial risks and these risks pop up in nearly every sector. Transformation is happening in the energy and transportation sectors - we need the same changes to happen in agricultural production, in water and fisheries management.

The SDGs will have become mighty pillars through which investors can better understand the world of risk and opportunity.

What three sustainability challenges will be top of the agenda in 2027?

Maintaining a stable climate will be critical, followed by establishing sustainable food production systems. I want to put water in front of the other two sometimes, I know that is going to be crucial.

Will the world be on course for two degrees?

I hope so, but fear we won't be able to bend the emissions curve downwards fast enough. Technology is a fix but it can't save us in time - we may need new agreements to limit the supply of fossil fuels to ensure we keep below two degrees.

If you could invest in one clean technology through to 2027 which would it be and why?

Battery storage technologies, so that we can allow for better grid management and to get power to when it is needed but from renewable sources.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

I'm broadly optimistic. Time is really against us though!


Mark Campanale will be speaking at the BusinessGreen Leaders' Summit on November 9th.

This interview is part of a series of interviews, published in association with Greenhouse PR, to mark BusinessGreen's 10th anniversary. The full series, including interviews with Christiana Figueres, Lord Stuart Rose, and Lord Stern, will be published on the day of the Summit.

You can book your place for the summit here.

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