‘Attenborough Effect’: the growth in sustainable investing

Research links the veteran broadcaster’s documentaries to soaring demand for ‘green’ business practices

David Attenborough’s new show, A Life on Our Planet, is streaming on Netflix
David Attenborough’s new show, A Life on Our Planet, is streaming on Netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

David Attenborough’s documentaries have educated generations of TV viewers about the natural world - and the veteran broadcaster is also changing our attitudes to the world of business, research suggests.

The so-called “Attenborough Effect” has “prompted an increasing number of people to care about how they make their money as well as how much money they make”, says The Mail on Sunday.

The veteran broadcaster’s newest show A Life on Our Planet, released on Netflix at the start of October, provides a “terrifying look at how quickly the Earth has been stripped of resources and the devastating impact on the natural world”, says the newspaper.

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At the age of 94 and after more than six decades of film-making, Attenborough “still has the power to shock” - and many of his countless fans “want to do something to help, whether by being more ‘green’ in their daily lives or by making sure their money supports companies doing their best to help and sustain, rather than harm, the planet”.

Growth prospects

Recent research by asset manager Liontrust found that 74% of private investors cite sustainability as important in their everyday life. And with only 43% of these people currently investing sustainably, demand is expected to continue to grow.

Liontrust has already seen the assets in its range of sustainable funds grow from £2.5bn in April 2017 to £7.5bn - an increase that the experts attribute in part to the Attenborough Effect.

Peter Michaelis, the company’s head of sustainable investment, said: “We believe sustainable companies have better growth prospects and are more resilient than businesses not prioritising environmental, social and governance issues. These advantages remain underappreciated by the wider market.”

A ‘real’ effect

Emma Wall, head of investment analysis at wealth manager Hargreaves Lansdown, also believes that Attenborough’s films have been instrumental in persuading consumers to change their habits in order to protect the environment.

“The David Attenborough effect is real,” she said. “When we surveyed consumers after the release of Blue Planet, we found the majority changed their lifestyle habits after watching it.

“Putting your money where your morals are is easier than ever. There are a wide range of offerings; some investment funds work on an exclusionary basis - refusing to invest in companies involved in weapons, alcohol or oil - while others look to invest in businesses that are making a positive impact on society.”

Green opportunities

The financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has rocked economies worldwide, with governments, businesses and organisations seeking ways to fuel recovery.

Last month, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) urged UK leaders to seize the opportunity of creating green jobs and boosting the economy by becoming a “global leader” in the fight to tackle climate change.

CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “For so many, this feels like a time of fiercely competing goals. The world faces two seemingly separate yet fundamental problems. Covid-19, the biggest health crisis in living memory, and climate change, the defining challenge of the modern era.

“But they are not separate. The response to one affects success on the other. And the defining question is, how does the UK use this moment to rebuild our economy and the greener and stronger world we want to return to?”

Darius McDermott, managing director of fund scrutineer FundCalibre, agrees that the environment and climate change are key to the economy’s recovery. He told the Mail that it was “increasingly likely that an important part of the global recovery from the pandemic will be green”.

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.