Why we should change the name Impact Investing to Conscious Investing
Impact investing is a rapidly growing area of finance. This is good news. Anything that helps money flow toward positive social and ecological results is to be strongly encouraged. But behind the good news lies a hidden assumption which needs illuminating, if we are to realise the full potential of impact investing at the scale and speed current global challenges require.
The assumption is hidden in plain sight. To call this impact investing, is to imagine or pretend that other forms of investing do not also have social and ecological impacts beyond the purely financial. Clearly this is nonsense. We must recognise that every form of investment, every choice of where to put our money, and every money flow decision creates an impact. And, de facto, if the impact is not consciously benefiting social or ecological outcomes, it is quite likely damaging them.
Business and finance are not neutral:
To call this new, growing development impact investing, is to unwittingly collude with the powerful but unfounded assumption that business and finance are somehow neutral disciplines. That our conventional assumptions about how we earn and grow money are not part of an entrenched value system. This is basically what has been taught in business schools for generations. We are told that business is business, finance is finance and money is money. Ethics is relegated to a peripheral discussion, often an unsophisticated one, to be had another time.
We must recognise that all business, all finance and all investment has impacts. What is starting to grow now is people’s consciousness about these impacts. Impact investors are therefore actually conscious investors. They are increasingly aware of several important dynamics and relationships that have always been present in the money system but usually disregarded. Here are some of them:
Relationship 1: Relationships between different parts of the system:
The money I invest in a company is a sign of support for the way that company treats its employees, local communities and the natural world. Normal business logic has not tended to see it that way – restricting its vision to a narrower range of relationships. But the wider relationships are present in the system nonetheless – whether we acknowledge them or not.
Conscious investing recognises the importance of a company’s effect on stakeholders far and wide, human and non-human. The investor has become more conscious of the reality of these relationships, their inevitability and their importance.
Relationship 2 – Relationship between different points in time:
The money I invest in a company today is both a backing for and determinant of a particular future that awaits my children and future generations. Again this is not a neutral thing. Investing in certain technologies, industries and activities may express support for a polluted and unstable future or a healthy and life sustaining one.
By consciously investing money in businesses who are working toward the sort of world I actually want to see, I am recognising and respecting the relationships between past, present and future. These relationships have always been there, but now my investment choices are consciously acknowledging their reality.
Relationship 3 – Relationship between my money and my life:
The assumption of business as a value neutral, objective force in the world has relied on a historic separation between business and money on the one hand, and our heart and soul on the other. We all have our own words describing this separation. Whatever the words, conventional business logic has tended to assume and demand a separation between the personal and the professional, the heart and the head, the things I care most deeply about, and the things I am told must be done in the ‘real world’. This separation has been largely unconscious, but of course in reality such aspects of life cannot really be separated. There is always a price to pay if we try to separate them.
Conscious investing is beginning to acknowledge this, and therefore has a role in a gradual healing  taking place in the world of business and finance. By consciously investing, I am recognising that money is not just a quantity, a number. The quality of my money – where it has come from, and where it is going, who it has affected and how those things resonate with my innermost values, is also important.
Recognising deeper relationships:
These relationships – between different places, different time periods, and different inner and outer aspects of our lives have always been there. They have always been present in the business and finance system, though very often ignored. The historical industrial and financial logic has created and demanded a sense of split. This has been largely unconscious. Most people in business and finance have just assumed that is the way it is, and must be.
Impact investors – let us now call them conscious investors, as well as those working toward positive social and ecological outcomes in business – let us call them conscious business people, are consciously using their money, time and skills to support the flow of life itself. This is vital, important, necessary work to be celebrated. By recognising that de facto all business has impact, and that we must therefore all become conscious and clear about what those impacts are in reality, we can accelerate and celebrate this vitally important shift.