Obituary - Tessa Tennant: a long-term legacy

Channels: ESG, Investors, People, Policy

People: Tessa Tennant, Mark Campanale, Steve Waygood, Ian Callaghan, Paul Dickinson, James Cameron

Tessa TennantTessa Tennant, a pioneer of the responsible investment industry, and a good friend of Environmental Finance, has died of cancer at the age of 59.

Her many accomplishments include co-founding the UK's first green investment fund – the Merlin (now Jupiter) Ecology Fund – in 1988; the UK Social Investment Forum; the Carbon Disclosure Project; the UNEP Insurance Initiative; the Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia (ASrIA, now part of PRI); and The Ice Organisation, which rewards green consumerism.

She also served on the board of several funds, companies and not-for-profits, including the US Calvert Social Funds, the UK's Green Investment Bank, and Syntao Green Finance in China, and on the advisory board of the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI).

Following the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, she devoted much of her time to NDCi.global, which aims to help translate countries' emission reduction commitments into investment-ready projects, and the Climate Finance Accelerator.

Many of these initiatives evolved from discussions with like-minded friends and colleagues over the dining table in Glen House, her home in the Scottish Borders.

She had "a very distinct voice of activism, change, insight, building things and drawing people together," said Mark Campanale, founder of the CTI.

Environmental Finance benefitted directly from her enthusiasm and insights during discussions with the founders back in 1999 when the publication was still at the concept stage. She remained a valued contact and sounding board.

Among numerous honours, she received the OBE (Order of the British Empire) this year and in June was awarded the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in the Financial Times/IFC Transformational Business Awards.

"Everyone who works in the responsible investment industry has her to thank for their jobs," said Steve Waygood, chief responsible investment officer at Aviva Investors. One of her most significant achievements, he noted, was the 1998 reform of the UK Pensions Act. As a result of Tessa's pressure, this reform required defined benefit pension schemes to set out policies on ethical, social and environmental issues, he noted.

That "inspired a whole wave of supply of socially responsible investment funds," and was subsequently replicated in many other countries, Waygood added.

In addition to her imagination, charm and determination, she was also brave. When running the Ecology Fund, she had to fight her ground against Jupiter founder John Duffield – frequently described in the City as 'a colourful character' – and when heading to Hong Kong to set up ASrIA, she shrugged off a friend's warning that: "you'll end up in a body-bag at the bottom of Victoria Harbour".

To celebrate the life of Tessa Tennant and others working in 'green finance', a sculpture is to be commissioned in the City of London "to inspire the finance community ... and become a focal point as it looks to fully green its investments in people and planet".

For further information, see: https://lifetimeachievement.uk/

Graham Cooper

Other tributes:

Ian Callaghan, co-founder of NDCi.global:

"A long-time friend, Tessa approached me as a former investment banker ahead of the Paris agreement because she was concerned that no one was focussed on how the projects needed to achieve the goals of Paris would be financed, especially in developing countries.

"She and I shared a fear that because the agreement is built on a basic bargain – that poorer countries would get help from richer ones to fund their mitigation and adaptation needs – trust would soon break down if that didn't happen. We founded NDCi.global as a kind of 'proto-community' for those involved in financing to support Paris, and the Climate Finance Accelerator, first run at the end of last year, was a practical expression of how the different parts of that community – public and private finance, governments and civil society – will need to work together to get projects off the ground in numbers and at speed."

Paul Dickinson, founder and executive chair of CDP:

"Tessa Tennant was co-founder and the first chair of CDP. She took an initial idea through to a fully-fledged global NGO in just a few years. Today CDP operates worldwide with more than 6,000 corporations and over 500 cities reporting annually on their environmental performance.

"She taught the CDP team that finance had a unique 'bird's-eye view' over the whole economy, and therefore was perfectly positioned to make strategic intervention in the thought processes regarding the way companies are governed. Her belief that the financial system was not 'values free' has grown and flowered to the point where both leading investors and regulators across the world agree with her analysis.

"Her global reputation was built on a huge appetite for work as well great understanding of what needs to be done to avoid exposing both our own, as well as future generations, to tremendous risks. She was a very kind, thoughtful, encouraging role model who nurtured the individuals around her. She deeply touched all those she met and is irreplaceable."

Alexandra Tracy, president of Hong Kong–based Hoi Ping Ventures and former chair of ASrIA

Tessa was responsible for my introduction to sustainable finance. As a former project finance banker, whose speciality was fossil fuel generation, I was initially sceptical ... The Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia, which Tessa founded in 2001, not only won me over, but also led the way in educating investors across the region about the need to change behaviour. I was privileged later to follow in her footsteps as chairman of ASrIA, during which period her continued enthusiasm, expertise and warmth inspired us all.

James Cameron, former Baker & McKenzie barrister and founder of Climate Change Capital:

"Tessa was a much-loved friend and ally. She had a wonderful, purposeful, energy; she was persuasive, authentic and credible. When she called, you paid attention. She would ask you to do what you can to help, and you would.

"I knew about her and her work from the very beginning with Jupiter Merlin (Ecology Fund), sharing platforms on responsible investment, climate change and finance and regularly meeting up to determine what should be done about the environmental issues of the time.

"We were on the first board of Solar Century, and very proud of creating SolarAid out of the first, modest, profits of that pioneering renewables business. We worked together on the formation of CDP, we were members of the first board and I succeeded her as chair - she was a vital force, encouraging, cajoling, driving the movement for disclosure. I spoke at her ASrIA event in Hong Kong and witnessed what she put together way ahead of the mainstream in those critical markets for the future of the planet; we teamed up again on the advisory board of Carbon Tracker and, in different ways at various times, the Green Investment Bank. I made minor contributions, having had one of those calls, to her recent initiatives like Our Voices and NDCi.

"When I was advising the Moroccan Presidency of COP22, Tessa asked for an introduction to the finance minister. She came to see me mid-negotiations in our hectic Presidency adviser's office, made the connection, built on it and, with the help of her colleagues and the UK government, brought Morocco into the NDCi fold so that, ultimately, substantial financial resources flowed to the sustainable development of that country.

"Tessa was blessed with the gift of bringing people together to get good things done. I feel lucky to have experienced working alongside her, losing her now hurts, but I'm confident that I and many others who loved and admired her will honour her work with the kind of perseverance she would expect of us."