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Crypto’s Place in the ESG Investing Zeitgeist: Trusted Data and Aligned Incentives

This special episode taken from Consensus 2021, tackles the complexities of counting, tracking, and reporting ESG, including climate accounting, sustainable investing, Wall Street’s ESG movement, blockchains for ESG tracking and tokenizing ESG. Special guest appearances by: Massamba Thioye, Martin Weinstein, Kevin O'Leary, Mark McDivitt, Cristina Dolan, Marc Johnson, and Paul Brody.

July 2, 2021
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With Sheila out on vacation, we’re doing something different on the Money Reimagined podcast this week and next. We’re bringing you remastered versions of two one-hour CoinDesk TV shows we recorded during the Consensus virtual conference in late May.

This episode is sponsored by Unique One Network, Mimo and Quantstamp.

The theme for this two-part series was “Blockchain meet ESG,” an exploration of the challenges and opportunities that confront the crypto and blockchain communities as investors and businesses increasingly demand compliance with environmental, sustainability and governance objectives. A total of 14 guests over the two days helped us dive into how blockchain technology can help communities collectively address climate change or boost financial inclusion, and how the technology might overcome its own ESG challenges, such as Bitcoin’s carbon footprint and the crypto industry’s relative lack of diversity.

These issues have become more urgent for the crypto industry as public attention has grown on the heavy energy usage within Bitcoin’s and other protocols’ proof-of-work mining systems. These were especially aroused by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who walked back the company’s initial intention to accept bitcoin for its cars, citing environmental concerns. As Wall Street banks and asset managers put ever more resources into ESG investment vehicles and as the Biden Administration puts environmental and other concerns at the center of its regulatory agenda, these matters will only become of greater importance to the crypto industry.

Industry insiders are trying to flip the debate. With the right deals and policies in place, Bitcoin mining could be used to underwrite the rollout of renewable energy infrastructure, for example. And blockchain technology could help resolve what is arguably the biggest barrier to the effective deployment of ESG mandates: a consistent record-keeping system to accurately measure their impact. The technology could also help align incentives within an economic ecosystem so that all profit-seeking participants are motivated to achieve outcomes that serve the public good.

This first episode, recorded on Monday, May 24, tackles the complexities of counting, tracking, and reporting ESG, including climate accounting, sustainable investing, Wall Street’s ESG movement, blockchains for ESG tracking and tokenizing ESG.

You’ll hear from the following guests, each in short 5-10 minute segments:

  • Massamba Thioye, co-chair of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Martin Weinstein, founder of Open Earth Foundation, discussed the planet’s carbon accounting needs. They offered a high-level view of the humanity-wide challenge of how to consistently measure our collective ability to meet the Paris Accord’s 2050 targets for carbon neutrality and of how blockchain technology could help.
  • Kevin O'Leary, the Chairman of O'Shares ETF chairman and investor on CNBC’s “Shark Tank” show, explained how increasingly powerful ESG committees are making institutional investors more picky about the assets they funnel money into. He shared some of his ideas on how the Bitcoin community can better adjust to this new reality.
  • Mark McDivitt, CEO of Context Labs and former global head of ESG at State Street, ran with the mantra of “what we can measure we can manage” to argue for sophisticated blockchain-based models involving multiple calibrations and analyses to ensure that environmental data is trustworthy enough for investors.
  • Cristina Dolan, the CEO of InsideChains, spoke of her work for a forthcoming book about data science and ESG demands, in which she and co-author Diane Barrero Zalles, detail the need for standardization and how this technology might help.
  • Marc Johnson, senior associate at Rocky Mountain Institute, highlighted his organization’s work using a blockchain model for tracking cumulative carbon emissions and reductions at each stage along a supply chain.
  • And Paul Brody, global blockchain leader at Ernst & Young, outlined a vision for how tokenization based on trusted environmental and sustainability data can generate digital assets that economically incentivize both investors and the businesses that issue them to consistently strive for positive ESG outcomes.

Image credit: Metomorworks/iStock/Getty Images Plus, modified by Coindesk