Universal Owner is a mission-driven start-up determined to change the relationship between the financial system and the climate
Universal Owner’s founder has long seen climate change and environmental degradation as the primary threat to human security in the 21st century. His passion is trying to find and change systemically important pivot points in the business system that inform both government policy and behaviour of companies in the real economy. In 2015, he co-founded InfluenceMap to produce the world’s first system to analyse and challenge corporate lobbying on climate policy- the primary obstacle to an effective governmental response.
Working with institutional investors, he found they had a tremendous - and often underutilised - authority over the corporations they own; companies that are responsible for the majority of the world’s production and pollution. In 2019, Thomas launched the FinanceMap platform which pioneered the first external analysis on the robustness of investors’ corporate engagement programs, which had a significant impact on many of the world’s biggest asset managers.
Thomas left InfluenceMap to focus on the increasing gap between emerging climate-finance legislation, the ambition of asset owners, and how investors actually excise their duties on climate. Universal Owner is needed to help to close this gap by working constructively with both investors and civil society.
Why the Universal Owner name?
The concept of the universal owner was developed in 1995 to describe large institutional investors with highly-diversified and long-term portfolios that effectively hold a large share of the overall market. Therefore, it follows that investment returns depend on the continuing good health of the entire global economy and all the conditions which underpin the production of value - labour, the earth's biological systems, political stability, etc.
From this perspective, it does not make sense for a universal owner to extract profit by investing in a polluting company, if the cost of that pollution is externalised and incurred by another business that they also own.
In the 2019 paper 'Universal Ownership in the Anthropocene', Dr Ellen Quigley argued for an expanded definition of the concept. With the rise of passive investing and portfolios with "unhedgable" climate risk, all long terms investors (including citizens with savings) could be defined as, and think of themselves as, 'Universal Owners'.