Obituary: Green investment pioneer Tessa Tennant

James Murray
clock • 4 min read

'She did things, looking back, that were years ahead of their time'

One of the global pioneers of green and sustainable investment, Tessa Tennant, has died following a long illness.

Tennant was widely known and highly regarded across the green economy and investment communities as one of the key players who helped push socially responsible and sustainable investment practices into the mainstream throughout the 90s and 2000s.

She co-founded the UK's first green investment fund in 1988 with the Merlin Ecology Fund, which was later rebadged as the Jupiter Ecology Fund. The fund delivered consistently impressive results and Tennant was to dedicate her career to advancing the cause of green investment, recognising it as one of the critical levers for tackling environmental challenges and developing a greener economy.

She would later serve as Head of Responsible Investment at NPI - later known as Henderson Global Investors - where colleagues remember her building a team that outperformed the market year after year and challenged the idea green investments came at a price for investors.

In the 1990s she co-founded the UK Social Investment Forum and the UNEP Insurance Initiative, and was also the first Chair of the Association of for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia. In addition, she held a number of directorships, including at Solarcentury and the Green Investment Bank.

Since the turn of the century she 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.

Tennant was awarded an OBE at the start of the year and last month received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Financial Times and International Finance Corporation, presented to her by her fellow green investment pioneer James Cameron.

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. "For example, her lasting legacy, the Jupiter Ecology Fund which she launched in 1988; her decision to bring what was the Valdez Principles to London in 1990, which become 'CEREs' and was originally a set of standards around corporate environmental responsibility. Or the initiative to bring all the worlds Sustainable Investment Forums with a joint message for the 1992 Earth Summit called the 'Rio Resolution'. Or her decision to launch the NPI Global Care Asia Pacific Fund in 1997, the first Asia sustainability fund. Or the creation in 1996-7 of the 'Greenhouse Gas Protocol' at NPI for corporate disclosures. All remarkably forward looking.   

"She did things, looking back now, that were years ahead of their time. Next Feb, 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.

"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."

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