“Sustainable Investing” or Just Plain “Investing” – Where Are We in 2021? Important Milestones Provide Answers…

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

February 22, 2021

About Sustainable / or ESG Investing: We have traveled a far distance over the past four decades, beginning with “ethical” and “faith-based” and the more frequent “socially responsible investing” (SRI), morphing over time into “sustainable & responsible investing” (still SRI for the traditionalist) and on to “ESG investing”.

And now to… how about “investing”? That is, just plain investing, as our friend and colleague Erika Karp, CEO of Cornerstone Capital Group has been long saying.

At various conferences, Erika (a former head of UBS research) would often say to the crowd, “one day it will be ‘investing’ without the adjectives”. That day appears to be here! Let’s see how and why.

We can start making that “just plain investing” case with the results of the US SIF biannual survey of professional asset managers in the United States (2020) – $1-in-$3 of professionally-managed AUM follows some type of ESG/sustainable investing approach. That is $17 trillion of a $55T market and growing in leaps and bounds. We can expect the next survey to report $1-in-$2 or better. (Source: US SIF.)

More recent news: Morningstar looked at “sustainable funds” for 2020 and determined that more than $51 billion flowed into new investments (double the record year of 2019) …accounting for one-quarter of all newly invested money.

Morningstar’s Jon Hale (author of the report) explains that the worsening climate crisis, the Coronavirus pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement are among the many reasons for this apparent flight to safety investing trend.

And, the sustainable funds outperformed (on average) more than conventional funds, with three out of four sustainable equity funds ranked in the top half of their Morningstar category in 2020. (There are about 400 “sustainable funds” available for investment, says Morningstar, up from 139 in 2015 as the firm began to separate sustainable funds for close examination from the usual mutual funds.)

Morningstar applies a Sustainability Rating for funds to help investors measure portfolio level risk from ESG factors, using Sustainalytics ratings to measure a company’s material ESG risk; the scores are rolled up to company level scores to come up with the portfolio score.

The World Economic Forum (WEF, the Davos meetings folks) points out an important factor in 2020 investing growth – 10 million new individual investors began investing since the start of the pandemic. The newcomers to investing are often younger, and Millennial Generation (born 1980-2000 by most definitions).

The post-Baby Boomers (born after 1965) stand to inherit an estimated US$30 trillion as their Boomer parents pass along their wealth in coming years. (Boomers are categorized as the post-WWII baby boom born 1946 to 1964.)

Asks WEF: “As this great wealth transfers, what might this mean for wealth inequality and long-term sustainable value creation?”

An important “add” here to note is the moves by Goldman Sachs to issue $750 billion in sustainable financing, investing and advisory activity by 2030 (according to the firm’s CEO).

In this issue we share four Top Story items that add considerable information to the above. Are we ready yet to follow Erika Karp’s advice – just call all of this ‘investing’?

TOP STORIES

Millennials Really Do Want To Work for Environmentally-Sustainable Companies, According to a New Survey of Large Company Employees

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

Here we are in the new millennium, since 2000 or 2001 (the clear delineation of the century-break has been debated) and the generation that straddles the 20th and 21st centuries has characteristics that may be quite different for employers (and as customers, investors, voters).

The Millennial Generation has been defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as those men and women born between 1981 and 1996, who are 23-to-38 years of age in 2019. (For sure, the exact definitions of recent generations are not always in general agreement.)

This cohort succeeded the smaller-sized “Generation Xers” and the larger Baby Boom generation (born 1946-1964, originally 77 million strong and two-thirds larger than the “Silents” before them).  The long-dominant Boomer population has been decreasing in total size since 2012…so what comes next for the business sector and the financial sector?

Answer:  Millennials! – and then over time the Post-Millennials, those born 1997-to-the-present day. But today’s focus is on the many impacts, strong and subtle, of the Millennials.

The Pew Research Center sees some of the defining trends for the Millennials as including experiencing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the aftermath (shes off at the airport screening); the 2008 financial crisis and the impacts of the Great Recession that followed; steadily escalating costs for higher education and healthcare and housing…and other factors that created “slow starts” for their careers and “that will be a factor for American society for decades to come.”

This is also the generation that grew up surrounded with technology and for some, the experience of transition from land-line phones to early cell phones and then on to sophisticated iPhones; and for most, the internet, the World Wide Web, and social media became the center of life, observes the Pew researchers.

So what should business leaders expect as this maturing generation – in terms of attractive to potential job applicants and for retention of Millennials already under the roof?

Fast Company, the go-to magazine for many in the generation, says corporate sustainability is a priority and most Millennials would actually take a pay cut to work at an environmentally-responsible company; 40 percent have already done so because “company sustainability”. That is higher than the answers of respondents of prior generations (below 25% for Gen Xers and 17% for parents and grandparents in the post-WW II Boomer crowd).

Millennial survey respondents (40%) said they have chosen a job because the company performed better on sustainability than other choices…something only 17% of Boomers said they had done.  As for employee retention, consider that 70% of Millennials said they would stay with a company if it had a strong sustainability plan.

Are these survey results a “blip”?  Fast Company [magazine] tells us that in 2016 a similar survey reported that 64% of Millennials said they would not take a job at a company that was not “socially responsible” — and 75% said they would take a smaller salary to work at a company more in line with their “values”.

The 2019 survey was based on conversations with 1,000 employees at large U.S. companies.  More than 70% of respondents said they would choose to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda, and a sizable number said they would take a pay cut to do so.

Today’s business leaders need to keep these attitudes in mind as this significant demographic shift is taking place.  As the huge generation of Baby Boomers continue to age out of the workplace (the oldest are 73 years of age, the youngest are now 55),

Transition:  Millennials will make up three-out-of-every-four workers in the next six years, staff writer Adele Peters tells readers.(And the Census Bureau says they are one-out-of-four of the total US population today.)

The survey was commissioned by the blockchain-based clean energy platform Swytch – another sign of the times; this is a new platform organized to track and verify the impact of sustainability efforts and action on the global level of C02 emissions using blockchain technology.

The company says that consumers reducing their energy use can win tokens.  Is this 21st Century approach to currency exchange a “blip”? Perhaps not – JPMorgan Chase recently announced its own crypto-currency and as we write this, Bitcoin values are at $4,000.

Says Swytch co-founder Evan Caron of the survey:  “From my perspective, it’s a competitive advantage for large enterprises to really align themselves with employees’ ideas about creating more environmentally-sustainable choices.”

This Week’s Top Story

Most millennials would take a pay cut to work at a environmentally responsible company
(Friday – February 15, 2019) Source: Fast Company – Nearly 40% of millennials have chosen a job because of company sustainability. Less than a quarter of gen X respondents said the same, and 17% of baby boomers.