Goldman Sachs' New Green Policy Targets Climate, 'Ecosystems Services'

Goldman Sachs' New Green Policy Targets Climate, 'Ecosystems Services'

Global investment bank Goldman Sachs has adopted a comprehensive environmental policy, acknowledging the scientific consensus on climate change and calling for urgent action by public policy makers and federal regulators to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The policy is also the first in the financial sector to acknowledge the degradation of global "ecosystems services" addressed in the United Nations' Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). Ecosystem services include the provision of water and food, control of pests and pathogens, renewal of fertile soil, control of floods, and more. The MA's findings that two-thirds of these services are being degraded present real challenges as well as opportunities for business.

Goldman Sachs will establish and fund a Center for Environmental Markets in partnership with academia and civil society. The center will engage in research to develop public policy options for establishing markets around climate change, biodiversity conversation and ecosystem services. Recognizing that climate change cannot successfully be addressed through voluntary action alone, the firm has also committed to promote regulatory solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As a major owner and operator of fossil fuel-fired power plants in the United States, Goldman Sachs has agreed to publicly report and work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its plants while also supporting the need for a national policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The policy states that its investment businesses will "take the lead in identifying investment opportunities in renewable energy" and that it will "be a leading U.S. wind energy developer and generator." It further promises to promote green building standards such as LEED Gold and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and sustainable forests with a stated preference for FSC.

So far, environmental trend-watchers have lauded the new policy. "Goldman Sachs is helping to fill a leadership vacuum on urgent environmental and social issues in this country," said Michael Brune, executive director of Rainforest Action Network. "[CEO Hank Paulson's] hands-on approach is the kind of leadership we need to see a lot more of in the corporate sector."

Said Paul R. Epstein, M.D., Center for Health & the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School: "[This] announcement from Goldman Sachs signals a readiness in the financial sector to advocate for public policies that enable substantial changes in their practices, programs, and products, and those of their clients and suppliers. A comprehensive public/private partnership, writ large, with significant incentives and regulations ('carrots and sticks'), can make the clean energy transition a plus for public health, international security, economic growth, and climate stability."

Similar to recent policies from Citigroup, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase, the firm's commitment includes explicit prohibitions against financing or investing industrial activity in ecological no-go zones and recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to free, prior informed consultation.