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Sustainable Finance and Ethics


Seele P.

Docente titolare del corso

Conti L. G.




Finance is part of society and financial transactions have an impact not only on the economic sphere, but also on environmental and societal issues. The course presents normative underpinnings, controversies and implications of finance and offers by way of theoretically informed ethical reasoning concepts, standards, indicators and communication strategies of sustainable finance. The course ends with hands-on and state of the art concepts such as ESG (environment, society, governance) ratings, non-financial reporting KPIs, digital currencies or ethical investment guidelines. Best and worst cases allow for individual assessment of the ethicality of selected financial transactions. 

Corporations – and in this master’s course particularly corporations from the financial sector – are challenged increasingly with the question of their social responsibilities regarding society and the environment. In addition to legal compliance a corporation’s social responsibilities have two dimensions: reducing harm previously produced through externalities of the corporation’s activities. And secondly. sustainability as business opportunity for developing new products, reinventing the corporation’s mission or political contribution to transnational agendas such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In the financial sector, not only sustainability is of increasing relevance, but as a consequence also the development of financial products, that are in line with social responsibility (also sustainable or responsible finance). Socially responsible investment (SRI) or mission or impact investment covering secular ethical norms as well as religiously framed normative claims as in ‘islamic finance’ for example.


The course starts with a general introduction into business and society with a special focus on communication.  A main chapter of the course explains more specifically sustainable finance and socially responsible investment. A core question is the possible conflict between a financial corporation’s fiduciary duty and the recognition of normative demands, partly in breach with a corporation’s fiduciary duty. Secular concepts such as the SDGs, CSR and ethics are discussed as well as religious frameworks such as islamic finance. Unlike most sustainable finance courses, this course sheds light also on the legal-philosophical and ethical foundations.

Modalità di insegnamento

In presenza

Impostazione pedagogico-didattica

The course builds on case studies and research on institutional investors, sovereign wealth funds and here particularly their ethical investment guidelines as communication tools to internally and externally promote sustainable finance. Furthermore, the existing soft-law standards and norms in the industry are discussed to guide companies the way into the world of CSR and SRI.

Attendance encouraged

Modalità d’esame

100 % exam

Required material 
• Baker, H. & Nofsinger, R. (2012): Socially Responsible Finance and Investing. Overview: 1-15
• Edward Freemann: Stakeholder Theory – The State of the Art (2010). ST and CSR: 24-29, 235-265.
• Leins, Stefan; Seele, Peter; Vogel, Franzisca: (2016). Greenwashing in Islamic Finance? An Analysis of Islamic Private Banks' Non-Financial Reports and a Proposal for an Islamic Finance Reporting Initiative Standard. Journal of Religion and Business Ethics 3 (2), 3
• Mark Schwarz: CSR an Ethical Approach (2011) Ch.2: The Nuts and Bolts of Determining Ethical Responsibility, 29-49.
• McKinsey Quarterly: Water as a Scarce Resource (2010) 75-79.
• Michael Porter: Creating Shared Value. Harvard Business Review (2011) 63-77.
• Revelli, C. & Viviani, J-L. (2014): Financial Performance of SRI – Meta Analysis: BE:ER
• Roger Martin: The Virtue Matrix. Harvard Business Review on Corporate Responsibility (2003) 83-102.
• Scherer, Palazzo, and Baumann: Global Rules and Private Actors. Business Ethics Quarterly (2006) 16 (4): 505-532.
• Seele, Peter; Gatti, Lucia (2017): Greenwashing Revisited: In Search for a Typology and Accusation-based Definition Incorporating Legitimacy Strategies. Business Strategy and the Environment. 26.2. 239-252.
• Walker and Wan: The Harm of Symbolic Actions and Green-Washing. Journal of Business Ethics (2012) 109: 227-242.
• Werther and Chandler: Strategic CSR (2011) Ch.4: The Strategic Context of CSR, 85-114.

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