KPMG’s Gaya Herrington affirms ESG’s key role for economic growth

18 August 2021 2 min. read
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An independent study by Gaya Herrington, a director at professional services firm KPMG, concludes that an MIT study from 1972 (and the bestselling book "Limits to Growth") was right in predicting a collapse of civilization in the 21st century.

US-based Herrington, who advises KPMG’s clients in the Americas on sustainability, long-term risk management, and business strategies, conducted the independent study for her master's thesis at Harvard – using current empirical data to outline scenarios laid out in the 1972 study, complete with new predictions.

She concluded that if business “continued as usual”, economic and industrial growth could indeed stagnate as early as 2040, severely affecting food production and standards of living globally. The many variables in Herrington's study – pollution, industrial growth and population growth among others – would affect future scenarios in various ways.

Gaya Herrington

That being said, even technological adaptations would not be able to make a decline avoidable, the study points out, especially not without any other adjustments. “There is a sustainable way of creating value and prosperity that also has immense economic potential. Doing good can still yield a profit,” she said in an interview with The Guardian.

The study raises important questions about a return to the "normal" that people across the world are yearning for after the financial and social distress caused by Covid-19. Herrington’s study suggests that it is necessary to deviate from the pre-pandemic speed and trajectory of relentless growth, for instance by lowering consumption and waste.

Indeed, there is cause for encouragement as studies indicate that consumer behavior has changed as a result of the global pandemic, with people becoming more socially conscious and showing a shift in priorities and attitudes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that societies across the world are capable of making significant adjustments, and “a sustainable and inclusive future is still possible”, according to Herrington. But she also warns that time is running out fast.

Meanwhile, Herrington’s employer KPMG published an impact plan earlier this year that highlights the company’s ESG commitments. The company is one of the globe’s largest accounting and consulting firms.

Gaya Herrington holds a master's degree in Sustainability Studies from Harvard University and previously worked as an economic policy advisor for Dutch Central Bank, based in Amsterdam. She joined KPMG in 2014 and currently is its Americas lead for sustainability and system dynamics analysis. Herrington also is an advisor to the Club of Rome.