At Morgan Stanley’s fourth annual Sustainable Investing Summit, public and private sector leaders discussed how some of the most urgent sustainability issues, including climate change, gender and racial equity and mental health, require investments in cross-sector solutions.
Today’s most significant global sustainability challenges have been decades in the making, but many of them have intensified in the last several years. The impacts of climate change are ramping up, disproportionately affecting underserved communities; renewed calls for social justice are putting longstanding inequities into greater focus; and the pandemic has exacerbated an underlying mental health crisis.
At the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing’s fourth annual Sustainable Investing Summit, global leaders gathered virtually to discuss how governments, citizens, companies and investors can tackle large-scale social issues like these at a systemic level. A diverse array of panel discussions illustrated how institutions and individuals are addressing complex problems, but also work that remains to ensure a more sustainable and resilient future.
When I went out to communities, particularly low-income communities, and asked what their top concern was related to climate change, it was extreme heat.
Chief Heat Officers at the Frontlines of Extreme Heat
This year’s record-breaking temperatures had a devastating effect on urban populations, and many cities worldwide are responding by appointing Chief Heat Officers (CHOs) to help keep their residents safe. Jane Gilbert, Miami-Dade County’s CHO, and Marta Segura, Los Angeles’ CHO and Director of the Climate Emergency Mobilization Office, joined Morgan Stanley Chief Risk Officer Keishi Hotsuki to discuss how they’re working to lessen the extreme heat burden on their cities' residents.
In Miami, tackling extreme heat is now an urgent priority. “When I went out to communities, particularly low-income communities, and asked what their top concern was related to climate change, it was extreme heat—and the health risks and economic burdens associated,” she said. The reasoning, according to Segura, is because these communities are more significantly affected by extreme heat. “Disadvantaged communities are the ones with the greatest pollution and pre-existing health conditions and are unfortunately the most impacted,” she shared.
City investments in tree canopies, hydration stations or other shade structures are critical, because without that infrastructure, the loss of worker productivity could have a big economic impact—some of which is already being felt. Gilbert estimated that Miami-Dade County has lost approximately $10 billion in worker productivity because of extreme heat, and that could double by mid-century. She also added that outdoor workers are up to 35 times more likely to have a heat-related illness.
Both Gilbert and Segura underscored the importance of the public and private sectors working together to find solutions, such as more efficient and affordable cooling systems for homes and building affordable housing that meets climate change resilience standards. That collaboration also extends to communication. “We need the partnerships of the public, private and nonprofit sectors to help disseminate information in the same way we prepare for earthquakes and hurricanes,” Segura said.
Mental Health and Labor Shortages in Healthcare
Not unlike climate change, the mental health crisis is a daunting challenge requiring large-scale solutions. At the Sustainable Investing Summit, three leading healthcare practitioners discussed how mental health issues reached a tipping point during COVID-19 and how the mental health needs of healthcare workers exemplify how employers and workers across industries might better navigate this crisis.
“As an employer, what we’ve seen is a tremendous toll on the employee population,” according to Dr. Steven Corwin, President and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian, which he said experienced 17% vacancy for its jobs in 2021, compared to a historical average of 4%. To address what NewYork-Presbyterian’s workers needed during the pandemic, the hospital system implemented hardship funds and a food bank to help the staff’s multigenerational families attain food security. Since launching these and other initiatives, employee engagement scores have gone up and job vacancies have dropped to 6%, Dr. Corwin explained. Dr. Francis Lee, Chairman of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, referenced one promising technology tool that his hospital system used to support its workforce: an artificial intelligence symptom tracker, which asked staff members to be curious about their mental health and monitor and track their symptoms anonymously.
The hospital networks’ initiatives show how effective solutions can often require cross-sector technology enablement, data gathering and analysis, and that efforts at the employer level are necessary to ensure a healthy and productive workforce. “While individual interventions are important, it is very important that a system looks at itself,” said Dr. Blair Simpson, Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University. “A system should look to create a workplace where things function and work, where people are not frustrated and where there is a partnership around wellbeing.”
Gender Equity and Social Justice in Sports
Worldwide, women still only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.1 In sports, organizations, players and fans have debated whether men’s and women’s teams should be paid equally. Nneka Ogwumike, a Nigerian-American player for the Los Angeles Sparks in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and President of the WNBA’s players’ union, spoke about gender equity in sports and how she helped lead negotiations on compensation and social justice support during the pandemic.
Ogwumike believes that achieving gender pay parity in basketball will take time and large-scale efforts. To start, she highlighted a number of goals: more collective bargaining agreements (she sees WNBA players signing their first $1 million contracts in the future); more growth opportunities for female players before they reach the professional level; and better accessibility for people to find, watch and follow women’s sports.
Ogwumike’s activism and advocacy has not been limited to pay equity. In 2020, following the widespread protests for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, she helped negotiate an agreement for the season to be dedicated to social justice causes. “We were experiencing so much in the pandemic with social justice, and once we were able to air those things out, and let people express themselves, it was apparent that everyone had all sorts of emotions but really wanted the same thing.” According to Ogwumike, that was dedicating the season and their platform to Say Her Name and Black Lives Matter.
In all, the Sustainable Investing Summit’s discussions illustrated how leaders across public and private sectors are working to build systems that support and invest in people, which can lead to improved economic and societal sustainability. For more ideas about how individuals and systems within capital markets can contribute to a more resilient and equitable society for all, see the Institute for Sustainable Investing’s thought leadership on sustainable finance.