Interview: Dustyn Lanz, Responsible Investment Association
Dustyn Lanz is Chief Executive Officer of the Responsible Investment Association (RIA) – a Canadian organization that promotes the incorporation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into investment decisions. He is a columnist for Investment Executive, where he writes about topics related to sustainability and responsible investment. Dustyn is also a member of the 30% Club, a network of executives which aims to achieve a gender balance in corporate leadership.
Dustyn has been working towards a sustainable financial system since he joined the RIA in 2013. He is quoted regularly in the national media as an expert on responsible investing, and he is a frequent public speaker at some of Canada’s leading business schools and investment conferences. In 2014, he helped to launch Canada’s first financial designation for financial advisors with expertise in responsible investing.
In 2016, Dustyn received a Clean50 Emerging Leader Award for his contributions to sustainable development in Canada. In 2018, Dustyn was appointed to Wealth Professional Magazine’s “Hot List” of 50 influencers in Canada’s investment industry.
Prior to joining the RIA, Dustyn worked for the Centre for International Governance Innovation, where he wrote policy briefs to strengthen the governance of the global financial system. His written work has been published by leading academic journals and think tanks in Canada and internationally. He holds a bachelor’s degree from York University and a master’s degree from the University of Waterloo.
Name: Dustyn Lanz
Business: Responsible Investment Association
Education: MA (Waterloo), BA (York)
1. What inspired you to work in finance? What made you decide to take the leap?
The 2008 financial crisis made me want to fix the financial system – I wanted to help make finance work better for society. I initially pursued a career path that would have led me towards public policy, but I decided to change course when I learned about responsible investing. Whereas I was initially trying to stop “bad” things from happening (i.e. naked credit default swaps on Greek debt), I found it more inspiring to try to help make “good” things happen in finance. Responsible investing was a natural fit.
2. What advice do you have for others who want to invest responsibly?
If you are concerned about environmental or societal issues and you want your portfolio to be aligned with your values, tell your financial advisor. If you want to be invested in environmental solutions, tell them. If you don’t want to be invested in tobacco (as most US equity funds are), tell them. Even if you aren’t knowledgeable about finance, don’t be intimidated – it’s your money and it’s their job to know what matters to you.
3. What is your perspective on investing in renewable energy projects?
Climate change is the defining global crisis of our time, and it is showing no signs of slowing. I worry that we may have already missed our chance at keeping the planet to the “safe” limit of 1.5ºC of warming, so if we want to stand a chance at 2ºC, we need to deploy a tremendous amount of capital to develop and scale up renewable sources of energy.
4. What is your opinion on the value of ESG in companies that you invest in? How do sustainable values influence your decision to invest?
A company is more than just the numbers. Incorporating environmental, social and governance factors into investment decisions can help to identify risks and opportunities that may not be visible in a company’s financials. That’s why responsible investments tend to perform just as well if not better than conventional investments.
5. What was your first job and what did you take away from the experience? How did you discover your passion for working in the field?
I started working as a hockey referee when I was about 14. I come from humble beginnings, so it was exciting to get my own paycheque and buy my first pair of Nike runners. I can still remember those blue & white high tops. I think that experience taught me the value of hard work and determination, which are now part of my DNA. Having some early success as a teen was a confidence booster, which was essential for me to get on my current career path.
As Tony Schwartz once said, “confidence equals security equals positive emotion equals better performance.”
In January of 2013, I was trying to find a career that I was passionate about. I came across a report from the World Economic Forum called the “Green Investment Report.” It was all about unlocking capital to finance the green economy, and I was totally hooked. I went to the RIA Conference that spring looking for a job, and now I’m in the privileged position of convening that conference.
6. What advice would you give to your younger self about finance?
Start investing as early as possible! Don’t procrastinate simply because you don’t have much money and think that there’s no point in having a small portfolio. Compounding returns are your friend.
7. What is next? Where do you see your personal investing portfolio in 5 years?
I think the investment industry is entering a new era. Investors are increasingly conscious about the impacts of their investment decisions, and they want their portfolios to be aligned with their values. ESG issues are going to join technology as a major disruptive force in finance. Responsible investment is not a trend; it’s a paradigm shift, and I think that’s going to become increasingly clear in the next five years.
A few pundits have tried to paint RI or sustainable finance as some kind of socialist conspiracy or political operation. However, this market is being driven by investors, for investors. Responsible investing is not about politics, it’s about using all available information to make smart, long-term investment decisions. You can be an NDP, Conservative or Liberal responsible investor, and your portfolio is likely going to be better off regardless of your politics.
Connect with Dustyn Lanz at the Responsible Investment Association