Rob Fowler: funding the future


A look at the efforts of a keen Australian finance leader to green his industry.

Rob Fowler

Rob Fowler accepts the well-deserved 2009 Sustainable Super Fund award.

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The 2009 Sustainable Super Fund award has pride of place in Rob Fowler's office. Although the Ethical Investor award names HESTA, Fowler's employer, as the recipient, it's largely this man's vision that has begun to move sustainable investment principles irrevocably into the Australian investment industry mainstream.

It's not just about big ideas, though: Fowler is dedicated to truly actioning sustainability within his field.

"What we're actually trying to do," he explains with his trademark enthusiasm, "is to have all fund managers consider sustainability issues in their selection of companies."

After all, sustainable businesses tend to be more profitable in the long run, he argues. They're better for investors' wallets as well as our planet's future.

In the wake of a global financial crisis fuelled by greed, championing sustainability within the finance industry seems both logical and necessary. But Fowler had sharpened his focus on investment sustainability even before he became HESTA's Executive Manager - Investments and Governance in 2004.

Sustainable by nature

"I've always been outdoorsy," Fowler grins. The two years he spent living on beautiful Churchill Island in Gippsland, where he lectured in financial accounting in the late 1980's, obviously suited his nature: these days, though he's based in Melbourne, Tasmania is Fowler's preferred holiday spot.

"My favourite walk is the Hazards beach and lookout walk on Freycinet," he says. "It's just a beautiful view, and a beautiful walk to do in a lovely, pristine area."

It's here that he can switch off from work, to "get outside and do things" like cycling, swimming and bush walking, or pursue his passion for wine when the weather turns bad.

Coupled with his enjoyment of nature, ultimately it was a growing awareness global warming that spurred Fowler to take action on sustainability.

"I'm fairly late to it," he says. "Climate change has been the real catalyst for me to start and take a more in-depth interest in what we're doing to our planet."

A unique position

Fowler routinely rides his bike to work, and encourages partner Trish, who doesn't ride, to catch public transport rather than drive. Along with recycling and reducing waste, his household, like thousands of others around the country, is embracing "the journey" toward greater sustainability.

But as an economist, Fowler could see that sooner or later, consumer concern about climate change would affect business, too. His focus on corporate governance expanded accordingly, to take in the other pieces of the business sustainability puzzle.

"It's really only been in the last five or six years that the market's started to recognise the influence of environmental and social factors on a company's ability to continue to generate wealth for its shareholders," he explains.

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