Jean Rogers, Blackstone Source: Blackstone

Blackstone’s hire of Jean Rogers, a firebrand expert in sustainable finance, is a coup for both the firm and for Rogers herself.

This is arguably the most prestigious role in private markets sustainability; shaping the ESG approach of the largest private equity and private real estate firm in the world.

Before this year, Blackstone was far from a market leader on sustainable finance. But the $731 billion asset manager has mobilised significant resource in a bid to reposition itself as a sustainability leader. It has added no fewer than 11 ESG professionals this year, a number that does not include Rogers herself. The firm is also internalising its sustainability processes through new reporting requirements for portfolio companies and setting carbon footprinting and reduction targets.

Rogers officially starts her role as Blackstone’s head of ESG next year. She steps down as chief executive of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board she founded 11 years ago, now that SASB is being consolidated into a new global financial reporting and disclosures framework announced earlier this month.

In the US, where fiduciary duty has made investors wary of basing decisions on ESG factors, SASB became the go-to standard for companies to report non-financial (or as Rogers phrased it “pre-financial”) data. It did this by focusing on materiality, and in doing so convinced financial analysts that ESG data should be considered directly relevant to financial performance. “It was a kind of ESG Trojan horse,” Rogers wrote in a blog post this week.

Through SASB, Rogers “seamlessly worked with diverse sets of stakeholders, from government officials, to investors, companies and NGO representatives”, Julie Battilana, a Harvard professor for business administration and founder of the Social Innovation and Change Initiative, wrote in a statement to New Private Markets. “In the face of these multidimensional crises, we need leaders who do not only talk about the need to change corporations, but who have the courage to actually change them.”

While Rogers’ work at SASB is over, the influence it will have on the creation of the International Sustainability Standards Board has left her with a sense of pride and validation for her contribution to the shift towards sustainability across global markets. “I’m delighted to see the industry maturing and professionalising at a time when climate-related disclosures are on the cusp of evolving from voluntary to mandatory,” Rogers wrote.

SASB, which provides best-practice rules and procedures for how investors should disclose and report financial sustainability information, was never meant to be the culmination of Rogers’ career. Rather, with the non-profit’s focus on US capital markets, it was always meant to be just part of what Rogers sees as a “revolution” in the global financial system.

“Sustainable capitalism is not the goal. A sustainable world is,” Rogers wrote in a 2019 article for affiliate publication Responsible Investor. “What we are living… is a paradigm shift – a rapid evolution of capitalism as we know it, from winner-take-all to a kinder, gentler version that views finance as a force for good.”

Rogers’ knowledge and understanding of accounting for financial sustainability is matched by her passionate advocacy for the initiative. “Measuring what matters is an art and a science and Jean is a rock star,” David Gottfried, chief executive of the Gottfried Institute and founder of the US and World Green Building Councils, said in a statement. He added that, at Blackstone, he expects Rogers will continue “to work her magic building companies and assets that outperform and green our world and our economy”.

The stated role as head of ESG at Blackstone will have Rogers working across Blackstone’s business groups to lead the integration of sustainability reporting and engagement. She will report to Christine Anderson, who leads Blackstone’s external relations and is the firm’s acting global head of ESG.

In Rogers, Blackstone is bringing in a genuine industry leader with a rare set of sustainability credentials. At Blackstone, she has the opportunity to bring her sustainability approach to an industry giant that appears ready to start flexing its muscles in this fast-emerging space.