With over two decades in thematic and environmental investing, Jens has honed his skills in aiming to identify the companies that are transitioning towards the future. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences on environmental, water, and agricultural themes, and is a passionate about advancing solutions on challenges like a growing ageing population and an unsustainable food system.
I think it’s really important to construct your portfolios around the things that you’ll believe will create a sustainable, long-term future.”
When did you begin your career in sustainable investing?
I was working for a Belgian bank, KBC, at the beginning of my career, which also had an asset management business. They hired me as a financial analyst.
We were working together with an Irish team and, at the time, there were a number of common projects. Ultimately, KBC asked me to move to Dublin to further develop their thematic strategies from Dublin.
Towards the end of the 90s there was a lot of talk about technology and the ‘next generation’. In contrast, there was also growing awareness of demographic changes in the developed world and KBC had launched a fund focused on investments related to an ageing population. In addition, there were also strategies related to water and alternative energy, as well as financial themes like IPOs and buybacks.
Although the strategies proved very successful, a lot of the growth came through performance rather than inflows. I witnessed competitors emerge and raise millions and sometimes billions with a shorter or less compelling track record than ours.
In the mid-2000s, I went with a business plan to my senior management at the time which effectively said, ‘Listen guys, if you’re serious about becoming a world leader in thematic investing, we need to build a dedicated team around that’.
So, we built out a thematic team which very quickly began to focus purely on the environmental side of those themes. We launched an agricultural strategy, as well as a climate change strategy and a multi-environmental strategy.
Fast forward 10 years and, one day, I received a call from Philippe Zaouati [CEO of Mirova], who I had met on several occasions. He asked me whether I’d be interested in joining the new sustainability branch of Natixis, which a few months later was renamed Mirova. I accepted and moved to Paris.
What interested you about Mirova?
For me, it was an opportunity to broaden out from pure environmental investing, especially given I had past experience managing demographic strategies as well.
The way I saw it, there were so many opportunities to bring a range of themes together in a single portfolio. Instead of being a satellite allocation, I felt that such an investment strategy could have its place in the core of an investor’s portfolio.
However, for this to work it would require the support of a large team of analysts and portfolio managers covering a wide range of areas beyond just environmental equities. This was exactly what Mirova had to offer in addition to the global reach of the Natixis organisation as a whole.
How does sustainability continue to motivate you?
In over two decades of thematic and environmental investing, I’ve become immersed in aiming to identify the companies that are transitioning towards the future. And it’s clear to me that megatrends are going to continue to define how we organise our economy.
I see a world where the demand for fossil fuels will be in decline. It’s a world undergoing continued demographic change, be it population growth or urbanisation. And it’s a world where corporate governance and corporate social responsibility come under increased scrutiny.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, energy independence has also become a core focus in Europe in particular. We believe this will lead to an acceleration of investments in renewable energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency.
Many companies have also seen harmful supply chain breakdowns, caused by the pandemic and economic sanctions against Russia. As a result, they are looking to bring production closer to home. This, we believe, will also lead to opportunities for industrial automation and optimization of industrial processes.
Another important trend is related to how we eat. We see a very slow trend of changing patterns as Gen Z becomes a bigger part of our population. Younger people tend to eat more plant-based food, more sustainably sourced food1.
In short, we only invest in companies we like. And we like them because they have the right products to benefit from important long-term trends, are well managed, don’t take irresponsible risks and can contribute positively to the sustainability profile of our strategy. I think it's really important to construct your portfolios around the things that you'll believe will create a sustainable, long-term future.
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