University of British Columbia law professor Benjamin J. Richardson was recently awarded the senior chair in environmental law and sustainability by the Canada Research Chairs program.
The Canada Research Chairs program is a permanent and national strategy designed to help build Canada into a country renown for its research and development. Each year, the CRC invests $300 million in research initiatives from post-secondary schools across the country. Canadian universities nominate researchers and, if successful, administer their allocated funds.
Richardson’s research award is worth $200,000 each year for seven years. As the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Law & Sustainability, Richardson will study the influence of the financial sector on economic development and environmental sustainability. He hopes to promote socially responsible investment by developing new policy tools.
“[This concept] is not receiving the attention scholars should give it,” says Richardson.
He says he believes investors don’t want to invest if there’s a trade-off between profits and social responsibility.
“Human, economic, and social systems should be growing in a way that accepts environmental limitations so that we don’t succeed what’s being produced,” he says. “I want to use the financial market to promote better environmental outcomes.”
Richardson frequently teaches environmental law courses such as climate change law, environmental law and policy, and economic instruments and environmental law. He has also published several books including Socially Responsible Investment Law: Regulating the Unseen Polluters and Environmental Law for Sustainability.
“Companies are the primary economic actors and they exert a very large environmental footprint,” says Richardson. “If [they] ignore the environment, they probably won’t have a future. We can’t escape the environmental constraints.”
Ideally, Richardson would like to influence investors to be both successful and virtuous. He says the financial sector may promote environmental sustainability by “reward[ing] good environmental performance. It might mean easier access to capital, finance from provincial terms,” he says. “Conversely, make it more difficult for . . . companies that pollute to get money. Maybe they won’t get a loan or people won’t buy shares.”
Richardson continues, “[another] way in which social investors can try to do good is they can buy shares in companies that are environmentally problematic, but try to have a voice for change.”
“There’s a business case to be . . . socially responsible,” he says. “In my opinion, it is not only an ethical imperative, it is essential, it is ethical and pragmatic for businesses [to be environmentally conscious] in the long term.”
Richardson began his career in law as a legal consultant for the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Nepal and Kenya. He began lecturing at law schools around the world in the late 1990s, including New Zealand, Manchester, U.K., and, more recently, Osgoode Hall Law School and the University of British Columbia, where he currently lectures.
The UBC professor hopes to work collaboratively with other institutions, like the Canadian Business Ethics Research Network and the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, a global network of 130 law schools that have special interests in environmental issues.
“The CRC is at [UBC], a law school with a lot of strength in the air of environmental law,” he says. “I’m looking forward to working with a team of great scholars.”
University of Ottawa associate law professor Tracey Lindberg was another recipient of a CRC endowment for her studies in indigenous traditional knowledge, legal orders, and laws in her capacity as director of indigenous education and associate professor of indigenous studies at the Centre for World Indigenous Knowledge and Research at Athabasca University. The university will receive $500,000 in support of her research.