In my 13 years of finance, I’ve never quite encountered anything like this current trading environment. That’s taking into account a global financial crisis, a European debt crisis, a “flash crash”, and various other bits of absolute market turmoil and panic. Specialising in ESG investing has allowed me to strengthen my investment management craft in a way I have not been able to previously. It has been riveting to see the extent to which sustainability issues have affected the market’s views on different securities. As exciting as ESG considerations are, they seem relatively boring in comparison to cryptocurrency issues. As fate would have it, the two have recently become juxtaposed, and this provides an opportunity for some interesting views on where ESG and Cryptocurrency issues go from here.

So, what is cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency (as I understand it) is a decentralised vehicle for conducting various financial transactions, similar to the way money works, but in a much less conventional sense. What is untraditional about cryptocurrencies is that they operate through blockchain technology (BCT) rather than more orthodox mediums such as banks. This BCT is supposed to enable greater transparency and safety for the transacting parties. The creators of cryptocurrencies, also known as miners, use computational powers to solve complex algorithms and produce tokens. These tokens can then be bought, sold, and traded as needed.

ESG takes into account environmental, social and good governance factors in business decision making. At Leading Point, we have recently published our ESG Rationale and Action plan; read about them here.

The issue

One of the tenets of ESG is environmental sustainability. In recent years, there has been a monumental move in thinking towards climate change and the overall impact on human life. As a result, there has been a concurrent shift in businesses becoming more sustainable. This dynamic shift in thinking is unlikely to reverse.

One of the criticisms of the cryptocurrency mining process is that it tends to use a staggering amount of energy. For example, Cambridge University suggests that generating Bitcoin requires more power annually than powering Argentina. Higher electricity usage translates to higher CO2 production, which naturally is a big no-no in the ESG space. Of course, in a cruel twist of irony, there have been reports that the production of conventional forms of fiat currency (e.g. gold and copper) surpasses Bitcoin. Still, this has not slowed down the most recent criticism of cryptocurrencies. Many have argued that we cannot achieve greater efficiency in sustainability and increased cryptocurrency dominance at the same time.

The role that technology is playing in transforming the ESG market is well-documented. Meanwhile, BCT has seen higher usability across several sectors. So, the question is; where do we go from here in the great ESG vs Crypto debate?

There will be a sharper focus on the sustainability of cryptocurrency mining.

From its peak (at the time of writing), Bitcoin has fallen by more than 40% after Elon Musk (long time Bitcoin advocate and environmentalist) announced that Tesla would no longer be accepting Bitcoin as payment due to environmental concerns about its heavy energy use. Cardano, regarded as a much more sustainably mined cryptocurrency, has increased roughly 70% between May 2nd and May 16th as its executives have made moves to have Tesla replace Bitcoin with its offering. At Leading Point, we expect investors to continue to weigh sustainability and efficiency vs the popularity of various types of cryptocurrencies. As an asset class, cryptocurrencies will invariably come under greater regulatory scrutiny.

There will be increased volatility in the cryptocurrency market.

Investor discernment over sustainability will lead to higher volatility in cryptocurrency markets. This scrutiny adds to a trading dynamic that is already highly volatile.

ESG will continue to present moral and ethical dilemmas

If you’ve ever spoken to a very opinionated climate change activist, they may have been the type of person who wants to shut down fossil fuel production worldwide. While this would have immediate environmental benefits, there would be substantial human costs. No more fossil fuels would immediately put thousands out of work. At the same time, we’d also need massive infrastructural investment across the globe to ready ourselves thoroughly for new energy inputs. As one can imagine, there are numerous considerations.

As the world moves towards a more sustainable and responsible future, we view businesses as active participants rather than judging them as being “good or bad” in an ESG sense. At Leading Point, we have committed to using our expertise across many industries to help organisations address their stewardship needs. My most recent article talks on this in detail, exploring stewardship and ESG solutions, and why it will always matter, especially in 2021, read more here.

Summary

ESG vs Cryptocurrency is a debate that is growing in importance. We expect that this will reflect increased volatility and greater regulatory scrutiny.

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