ESG as an Ethical Approach. The Thomist School

In the next articles We are going to take advantage of the summer period to reflect on the meaning of Responsible Investment. Taking advantage of these months that usually coincide with the period of rest for many, or at least a more relaxed time. Why is it good for us to stop and think about where ESG comes from and what is the point of it? Because we have to get to the bottom of the matter and draw our own conclusions. We will stop in July on the origins and the ethical approach. See more opinion articles on sustainability at elEconomista Sustainable investment and ESG.

Soon I will talk about the new and more powerful work methodologies that we use today for the elimination or mitigation of risks and detection of opportunities. As we can see, it is a holistic, high-level approach that addresses the integral vision of the organization: at a strategic, cultural, technological, social, governance, formal and informal level, etc. To avoid the greenwashing (Trying to pretend that sustainability and responsible investment criteria are being met) it is good that we believe what we do, that we internalize it, and for this it is necessary to stop to think and understand where we come from and then we will decide where we want to go. In this first article of the series I will talk about the ethical approach going back to the origins, in the 13th century. In the second I will talk about the Sustainable Innovation Proposal.

I have found, from my professional experience, that it is not usually known what it is to apply ESG criteria (in an integrative way). Despite being a topic that is talked about a lot, I have the feeling that we still have to do a very important outreach and training work on it. ESG is the acronym in English for Environmental, Social Y Governance. But staying with these 3 concepts does not allow us to understand the implications in all their breadth. ESG is usually associated with Sustainability and this fundamentally with the environment. Here we tend to think about what world we are going to leave to future generations, recycling or renewable energy, to name just a few examples. However, ESG is an ethical approach that tries to respond to the relationship of people and institutions with each other and with the environment that surrounds them.

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In the thirteenth century Thomas Aquinas, author of Summa Thelogiae, main representative of the Scholastic School and founder of the Thomistic School takes an approach to how business should be done, fundamental for many centuries. At that time, not many centuries later, there was a recognition of economics as such but rather as a purely ethical and legal approach. Thomism is realistic, it believes that man through observation can know creation, it is universal, it tries to collect the truth, wherever it comes from. It promotes human dignity, the common good and moral virtues. All this combining faith and reason.

In addition to the above, it approves private property and commerce as long as they remain subordinate to God. This supposes a paradigm shift within the very relevant Christian thought of the time with important consequences at a time of strong commercial development. An ethical and moral approach is put before business. We say, therefore, that Thomas Aquinas sees both private property as trade and the generation of profit as something legal, but not in any way. Subject to God. Subject to moral or ethical standards. Why do we go back to the 13th century? Because the origin of the ethical approach is already here, linking directly with the Greek classics from which Thomas Aquinas drinks, and those he reads with the lenses of his Christian vision. This is in good measure the ESG approach, it is legal to do business, earn money, but not in any way: taking care of the environment, making sustainable use of resources; putting people first, employees, customers, shareholders, managers, suppliers, etc. And with good governance that maintains solid internal control and interests aligned as far as possible.

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This ethical approach that looks beyond one’s immediate interests generates long-term results, increases trust, promotes commerce and business. In addition, the holistic approach allows the detection of non-financial risks and incorporates them into the model for decision-making.

Fernando Delgado placeholder image He is Director of Investments at the Spanish Institute for Responsible Investment and professor of and professor at Finance Academy.

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