Like no president in recent times, Joe Biden assumed office facing multiple interlocking crises. His ability to achieve his agenda will require action from key sectors across the country, including the investment and business community.
Biden already has rejoined the Paris Agreement, committed to advocating for environmental justice and rolled out a government-wide focus on racial justice. He is advocating for a higher minimum wage, among other policies to address economic inequality.
To accomplish this ambitious agenda, we believe the time is right for the president to establish a White House Office of Sustainable Finance and Business. It would create a focal point to engage the private sector to contribute to current and future priorities and to further accelerate the private sector’s focus on sustainability.
The Office of Sustainable Finance and Business would develop a national strategy for U.S. leadership in sustainable finance and business.
Here’s how it could work: The Office of Sustainable Finance and Business would develop a national strategy for U.S. leadership in sustainable finance and business through collaboration with the fast-growing network of businesses and organizations promoting such goals.
Here’s why it can’t wait: The magnitude of the challenges facing the United States requires that the new administration leverage all sectors of society. Biden needs the private sector to help move this important work forward. This new office would significantly strengthen the administration’s government-wide approach to tackling urgent social and environmental issues.
The sustainable investment community already is engaged in this effort, channeling dollars to companies with better environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices. One in every three professionally managed dollars in the United States — $17 trillion — is invested with an ESG focus.
Sustainable investors were among the early voices urging companies to take action on climate change. They engage with companies to improve policies on issues ranging from human rights to diversity and water use. They also have been long-term investors in community banks and credit unions that are addressing economic and racial inequality in urban, rural and Indigenous communities.
In parallel, more companies are embracing the shift to sustainable business practices that deliver important societal benefits as well as a strategic advantage. This includes committing to net-zero climate targets and changing their business models, products and services to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. In the last year, leading companies have made new commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Today, 90 percent of S&P 500 companies publish sustainability reports, up from 20 percent in 2011. Companies are being urged to transition from a shareholder primacy model to one focused on multiple stakeholders, including employees, customers, communities, the environment and shareholders. This is often referred to as stakeholder capitalism. In a July speech, Biden noted that "it’s way past time to put an end to shareholder capitalism." We agree that this shift is overdue.
A new White House Office of Sustainable Finance and Business would accelerate the growth of sustainable investment and catalyze the shift to stakeholder capitalism, both of which are critical contributions to Biden’s pledge to "build back better."
Advancing policies that support the growth of a sustainable American economy also supports U.S. economic competitiveness and our broader national interest. The office, in fact, could serve as an important tool for the restoration of American "soft power," decimated by the past administration. Such an office also would reflect the priorities of an increasing number of Americans, particularly millennials and members of Gen Z, who expect that the places at which they shop and invest will be focused on positive outcomes for society and the environment.
A White House office also will allow sustainable investors and companies to partner with the administration to achieve a more sustainable and equitable economy. By highlighting the critical role of the private sector, Biden can further drive alignment of investment capital and corporate actions with his administration’s policy priorities.