Friday, February 15, 2008

Kleiner Perkins and climate risk

I spent yesterday at a conference at the UN on sustainable investing and climate risk. At the end of the day - all good conferences need a tag for a press release, after all - a bunch of state treasurers announced a climate risk action plan. Some 40 investors. managing $1.75 trillion, promised to insist that asset managers consider climate risks (and opportunities), invest in clean technologies, push for government policy changes, evangelize for sustainable investing, and so on. (Though the policy change most frequently demanded at the conference - a good, stiff carbon tax - isn't specifically mentioned in the action plan.)
Still, it's all well, good and hopeful. But when I looked at the list of signers, it turned out to be entirely made up of what I have begun to think of as the usual suspects: state pension funds, socially responsible investment companies, and foundations. These guys have been fighting the good fight for years, but they have never been able to persuade what I regrettably think of as real investors - the commercial asset managers, hedge funds, banks and investment banks that are in this business simply to make as much money as they can - to join them.
At the end of the conference, though, the moderator announced that famed venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers had signed onto the action plan.
Now, this is a very, very tiny tip of the iceberg. Kleiner Perkins has been investing in green technology for years. Last year the firm joined forces with Al Gore's Generation Investment Management (an action plan signer), with Gore becoming a Kleiner Perkins partner and Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr joining Generation's board. Indeed, we were told it was Gore (yesterday's lunchtime speaker) who'd persuaded the firm to sign on.
So Kleiner Perkins' pledge may have been more a courtesy to a board member than the product of a deep commitment. But the firm is a star in the commercial investing firmament. If it does become an evangelist for sustainable investing, it might get a whole new audience to listen. And that could jump-start some big changes.


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