Chris Hall, Founding Editor of ESG Investor, began his career in financial journalism over 20 years ago and hasn’t looked back. In our conversation with Chris, we learned about how he got his start in the field, the process of launching a new publication during the pandemic and his predictions for the future of ESG.
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When and why did you decide to become a journalist? Why did you choose to work in financial journalism?
I only ever wanted to write for a living and journalism looked like the obvious place to start to as a teenager in the early 80s raised on music magazines. To me, any journalist must believe they have a uniquely valuable perspective on what’s going on in the world around them, and the urge to share it. You must believe you see things that others miss.
I moved to London after university and soon became fascinated by how the finance sector works, and still am. My first job was at Reuters, and I’m grateful to them for part-funding my master’s in journalism.
We understand you launched your own publication, ESG Investor, in August of last year. Can you tell us about that experience and what you have planned for the publication?
For the past eight years I had been happily freelancing for a variety of finance sector titles, so the experience of starting a new title – and doing so during the pandemic – has been a roller coaster. Establishing ourselves in such a dynamic space, editorially and commercially, has its challenges, especially when you can’t physically meet anyone. That being said, I had been used to working remotely and conducting most of my interviews over the phone, especially for U.S.- and Asia-based stories, so it wasn’t so different in some respects.
It also helps that we have a great team with a wide range of complementary experiences. We’re all delighted with how well we’ve been received. Our editorial focus is on providing content which helps asset owners come to terms with the evolving practical realities of investing sustainably, whether that’s understanding investment risks and opportunities, avoiding being greenwashed, engaging with investee companies to achieve positive impact or just getting to grips with the regulations, standards and data being developed to support sustainable finance.
So far, we’ve concentrated on news and features formats, including interviews, but we expect to extend our scope in the near future – through special reports, research, data and audio-visual content – to provide the most interesting and useful content in the most easily digestible format.
Where do you see the ESG space going in the next five years? What recent industry trends are you looking forward to covering in ESG Investor?
We’re already seeing ESG investing becoming mainstream. At one level, this has long been inevitable, because no one wants to suffer losses by investing in a firm that gets fined for mistreating its workers, breaching tax laws or causing ecological disaster. Though essential, avoiding these risks is not sufficient to achieve sustainability today for businesses, investors, society or the planet. The story of how asset owners and managers are adapting their processes and strategies to drive real-world change has barely begun and that’s the one we’ll be following over the next five years and beyond.
That story will, of course, play out in many different settings. I grew up in the countryside and am lucky enough to live in a rural area now, even though it’s a 30-minute train ride to central London. So, I am personally very interested in the initiatives focused on directing investment to support biodiversity, such as the Task Force for Nature-related Financial Disclosures. From climate change to plastic pollution to resource depletion, humans pose a serious threat to nature, but investors can play a big part in redressing the balance.
What is your favorite part of journalism? How do you want to add value to the field of journalism through ESG Investor?
Nothing can beat the realization that you’ve got a story that’s going to change how people think about a certain issue, the excitement of putting it together and the nerves you feel when putting it out there. On a more everyday basis, however, the joy and privilege of journalism is about access to intelligent and committed people who are trying to make a positive impact. Our publication hopes to add value to the sustainable investing community through the content we produce.
You bring a unique perspective to the media landscape having been a journalist for most of your career, launching your own publication, as well as spending some time in public relations. With all that experience, what makes a good pitch? And what advice would you give to PR professionals in their pitching efforts?
A well-directed pitch which demonstrates understanding of the publication, the subject and the expertise of your client will always be well-received. Don’t just refer to an obvious megatrend but make it clear why your angle or information deserves attention. Also, it must hit its target immediately. Our inboxes fill up quickly, and so we must be ruthless with the delete button.
Other than ESG Investor, what publications do you read?
There’s a lot of great stuff being written about sustainability at the moment, both in terms of financial risks and opportunities, as well as new models and research that give hope for a more equitable and sustainable future. Several finance sector titles have some excellent specialist reporters in our space, and I am constantly impressed with the volume and quality of the output of James Murray and colleagues at Business Green. There are also a lot of good blogs from experts at NGOs that are well worth keeping up with.
I’m also enjoying the explosion of podcasts, which I typically consume on my exercise bike. Many have a sustainability theme, such as The Angry Clean Energy Guy, but not all. I enjoy anything from Ian Bremmer’s output on geopolitics and Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History to Talking Sopranos.
Who would be your dream interview? And what would you ask them?
I’m not sure whether it would be a dream interview, but I’d be keen to ask John Kerry how he intends to negotiate meaningful commitments from China as part of the COP26 process. More realistically, I’d love to share lessons in ESG-oriented investing with pioneers such as Hiromichi Mizuno or Ronald Cohen. And I’m still a music obsessive, so perhaps a chat with Tom Waits would be fun.