“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

Turmoil in the USA / Washington Capitol Terror Attacks – Corporate Sector Responses to Threats to the Nation

Prepared January 20 2021 – Inauguration Day in the USA

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

These are troubled times in the United States of America. After the national elections in November 2020, political and social rhetoric became even more heated and widepread sharing of rumors and lies intensified than even in the weeks leading up to the ballots being cast by well more than 155 million citizens in the 50 states of the Republic.  (There are more than 200 million registered voters in all of the states.)

Moving toward the inauguration of the new president the major social media platforms unfortunately served as rioter assembly stations and important [negative] information sharing tools that helped to spread lies, rumors, and volumes of false and dangerous information.  The large platforms stand accused now of having helped to enable many thousands of protestors to travel to and assemble in Washington, D.C. for a January 6 rally that quickly spun out of control.

There will likely be short- and longer-term fallout here: What was a growing public debate on the role of social media and the focus on tech companies at the center of controversy (think of Facebook, Twitter, Google, others) quickly became a public ranting from all sides of the political spectrum.

The tempo of the public policy debate has sharply increased:  What actions should be taken to address concerns about the tech leaders and their role in spreading false and dangerous-to-democracy content? (Stay tuned to this important public policy debate in 2021.)

To recap what happened:  On January 6th, 2021 a mob of an estimated 8,000-plus men and women attended a rally and then took the point to travel with an even larger group behind them, along the major thoroughfares that lead from the White House and nearby National Mall to the Capitol Hill complex that houses the U.S. Congress (the House of Representatives and US Senate) -– ranting slogans and waving their flags along a brisk and angry 3.6 mile march (4.8 kilometers).

By the time the government complex on the hill was reached the point of the mob was out of control. The “tip of the spear” leadership group quickly pierced the Capitol Hill ramparts and the mob poured in behind to do their damage inside the halls of Congress.

The mob -– characterized by many now as being in fact domestic terrorists -– swarmed the complex, confronted a police force numbering about 1,400, swept past those guardians and into the Capitol Building to wreak havoc, steal items such as the Speaker of the House’s office laptop, and destroy government property.

They were there for hours. And much of this was broadcast live, on various news platforms and including on social media — by participants!

The mob even seemed to be threatening the very lives of the Members of House and Senate — and it seems, the well-being and maybe the life of the Vice President of the United States (Michael Pence) who also served as presiding officer of the US Senate during the crucial vote to accept the 2020 Presidential voting results. (The mob’s intention was to overthrow Congress and change the vote outcome to make Donald Trump the winner.)

The  widespread criticism of these actions was immediate; much of the American public was outraged. Anger was directed at the mob, at the social media platforms helping to spread the messages of the insurrection leaders and participants, at the President of the United States and his political allies for encouraging the unrest.

24/7, major news media published, broadcast and telecast news and the volumes of criticism — and, indeed the collective outrage of most of the nation – out to all of the nation and world.

A Day of Infamy for the USA – and Corporate Response

In Utah, the Deseret News described this in its headline as “Jan. 6, 2021: Another day that will live in infamy for Americans”.

An important sea change:  The corporate community, including major players in financial services sector industries, quickly became very visible among the critics. For some companies the silence about the “Steal the Vote” protests was a form of diffidence or even support. That changed!

Prominent corporate leaders and their trade associations blasted the actions, of both rioters and supporters, and took (and continue to take) actions in response to the horror that they witnessed. We bring you highlights of some of this initial response this week.

Following the attack there was dramatically expanding news of what was to come as a new legislative and executive branch was taking shape  -– the days after January 6th were climaxed by the inauguration of the new president and vice president on January 20th (done!) and the convening of a new US Senate leadership team (in process as we write this).

All of this news and opinion was being shared in the context of the continuing threat posed to the American nation by homegrown, domestic terrorists.

This is usually a time of great celebration of the peaceful transfer of power, a 200-plus year tradition in the USA that occurs every four years following the presidential elections.  Instead, these January days became a time of sorrow and sadness and disappointment.  All that was being reported out to the world as well.

The days leading up to the January 20th inaugural event had most Americans very jittery, with media reports of continued threats (such as possible physical harm to the national and state capitals, more heated partisan political talk, even the possibility of threats to human life posed by armed citizens in so-called ragtag “militias”).

There were more U.S. military members present in Washington DC on Inauguration Day  to protect our capital city than were present in the Middle East conflict zones.

The ongoing turmoil poses a serious threat to the American Experiment in Democracy as well as to the long-term symbolism of the Capitol Hill complex that many citizens of America (and even many in the world) consider to be a shining city on a hill, the citadel of democratic rule.

With this commentary we bring you some highlights of the immediate corporate sector response, and what some see as the responsibility of the corporate leadership to help move the nation forward.  The tempo of the corporate response is quickening and we’ll share more with you in our G&A Institute’s Sustainability Highlights newsletter and in this blog. 

TOP STORIES

Here is some of the immediate Corporate Sector responses to the mob’s January 6 attack on the US Capitol – with specific corporate responses that target the financial of candidate campaigns. The corporation’s role in society is in even sharper focus now.

Looking forward:  The news media is now also focused on the future – there is a new administration in place now, led by President Joseph Biden, VP Kamala Harris, and a  House and Senate led by the Democratic Party.  The focus on ESG issues is intensifying:

We will be sharing considerably more news along these lines in the days ahead. Stay Tuned!

Watching the Major Stock Indexes – For Strong ESG Signals from the Corporate Sector

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

October 2020

Indexes – Indices – Benchmarks – these are very important financial analysis and portfolio management tools for asset owners and their internal and external managers.

We can think of them as a sort of report card; fiduciaries can track their performance against the benchmark for the funds they manage; financial sector players can develop products for investment (mutual funds, Exchange Traded Funds, separate accounts and so on) to market to investors using the appropriate benchmark.

If the investable products are focused on the available equities of the largest market cap companies for investment, the most widely-used indexes will likely be the S&P 500®, created back in March 1957 by Standard & Poor’s and the Russell 1000®, created in 1984 by the Frank Russell Company.

Today the S&P 500 Index is managed by the S&P Global organization.  The Russell 1000 is managed by FTSE Russell, a unit of the LSE Group (London Stock Exchange Group).

There are more or less 500 corporate entities in the S&P 500 Index that measures the equity performance of these companies (those listed on major exchanges).

There are other important indexes by S&P for investors to track:  The S&P Global 1200, S&P MidCap 400, and S&P SmallCap 600, and many more.

Russell 1000® is a subset of the Russell 3000®; it is comprised of the 1000 largest market cap companies in the USA. The R1000 represents more than 90% of the USA’s top publicly-traded companies in the large-cap category.  Both indexes are very important tools for professional investment managers and send strong trending signals to the capital markets.

The G&A Institute team closely tracks the ESG and sustainability  disclosure & reporting practices and each year; since 2010 we’ve published research on the trends, first with the S&P 500, and for 2019 and 2020, we expanded our research into to the larger Russell 1000 index. (The top half of the 1000 roughly mirrors the S&P 500.)

The 500 and 1000 companies are important bellwethers in tracking the amazing expansion of corporate sustainability reporting over the past decade.  Yes, there were excellent choices of select benchmarks for sustainable and responsible investors going back several decades – such as the Domini 400, going back to 1990 — and we tracked those as well.  (The “400” was renamed the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index in 2010).

But once major publicly-traded companies in the United States began escalating the pace of sustainability and ESG reporting, many more investors paid attention.  And media tuned in.  And then the ESG indexes proliferated like springtime blooms!

Those bigger customers (the large cap companies) of other firms began expanding their  ESG “footprint” and considering the supply and sourcing partners to be part of their ESG profile.  So, customers are now queried regularly on their ESG performance and outcomes.

Once the critical mass — 90% of large-cap U.S. companies reporting in our latest S&P 500 research – how long will it be for many more mid-caps, small-caps, privately-owned enterprises to follow the example?  Very soon, we think.  And we’re closely watching!  (And will bring the news to you.)

If you have not reviewed the results of the G&A Institute research on the ESG reporting of the S&P 500 and the Russell 1000 for 2019, here are the links:

Note:  Click here for more helpful background on the S&P 500 and the Russell 1000 large equities/stock indexes, here is Investopedia’s explanation.

Excellent Wrap up From GreenBiz:
At last, corporate sustainability reporting is hitting its stride

US Banks and Climate Change – What’s the Exposure to Climate Risk?

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

October 27 2020

Banks have long been at the center of the U.S. economy, and federal policies (federal legislation, rules) for the last century have been designed to support, encourage and protect banking institutions, and the customers the banks serve.

The Federal Reserve System – America’s vital central bankers – was one of the last central banks of the industrial nations to be organized (through the 1913 Federal Reserve Act). The Fed plays a critical role in U.S. bank oversight and support.

There is also a robust state-level banking oversight and protection system. Take New York State  — for many years, the state’s bank licensure activities were second only to the Federal governments. Many foreign banks “land” in NY and obtain a state license to begin to operate.

In all this oversight and protection [of the banking system], in all the laws, rules and regulations for the U.S. banking sector, risk is regularly addressed. It is central to bank regulation and the foundation of rules etc.

The questions centered on risk become more critical in this, an era of fast-rising climate change challenges.

What is the broad scope the financial services sectors’ (and the banking industry’s) responsibilities and accountabilities as seas rise, super storms roar ashore, flood waters rise, enormous wildfires occur, and more?

The Ceres organization’s “Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets” looked at the U.S. banking sector’s exposure to climate risk – to ask and try to answer: what are the systemic and financial risks of climate change for stakeholders, for the banking industry, and the broader economy?  That’s our Top Story pick for you this week.

The researchers looked at the risk associated with the syndicated lending of major U.S. banks in climate-relevant sectors of the economy. Key quote: “Our future depends on banks’ understanding of, and disclosure of, their exposure to major risks like climate change” (Steven Rothstein, MD of the accelerator).

The good news is that a growing number of the major U.S. banks have announced moves to look more closely at climate change impacts. Bank of America, for example, joined other big banks in disclosing the “E” effect of its lending practices. The big banks (like Citi Group) have joined forces in the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials Initiative.

Some 70 banks and investors from five continents are involved (with US$9 trillion in AUM). Lots going on in banking circles related to climate change challenges these days!

TOP STORIES

The Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets report on banking:

Something we were pleased to be a part of — WSJ Feature Section on “Leadership and Sustainability”. Journalists Dieter Holger and Fabiana Negrin Ocha interviewed the G&A leadership team in the “Show Us The Numbers” feature:

Big News: US SIF Report on US Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends 2020 Released

Big News:   As 2020 Began, $1-in-$3 of Professionally Managed AUM in the United States Had ESG Analysis and/or Portfolio Management Strategies Applied…US$17.1 Trillion Total

November 2020 — Every two years, since 1996, the influential trade organization for sustainable, responsible and impact investment (US SIF) conducts a year-long survey of professional asset managers to determine the total of USA-based assets under management (“AUM”) that have ESG analysis and/or portfolio management applied.

The Trends report just released charts the AUM with ESG analysis and strategies in the United States at $16.6 trillion at the start of 2020 – that’s 25X the total since the first Trends report in1996, with compounded growth rate of 14 percent. (The most rapid growth rate has been since 2012, says US SIF.)

Consider: This means that today, $1-in-$3 of professionally managed assets in the United States follows analysis and/or strategies considering ESG criteria. (The total of US assets under professional management at the start of 2020 was $51.4 trillion.)

This is a dramatic 43% increase over the survey results of the 2018 Trends report – that effort charted a total of $11.6 trillion in ESG-managed AUM in the USA at the start of 2018.

The survey respondents for the current Trends report identified the ESG-focused AUM practices of 530 institutional investors; 384 money managers; 1,204 community investment institutions – all applying environmental, social, and corporate governance criteria in their portfolio management.

What are top ESG issues identified by money management professionals in the survey effort?

  • Climate Change-Carbon: $4.18 trillion – #1 issue
  • Anti-Corruption: $2.44T
  • Board Room Issues: $2.39T
  • Sustainable Natural Resources/Agriculture: $2.38T
  • Executive Compensation: $2.22T
  • Conflict Risk (such as repressive regimes or terrorism, this cited by institutional investors): $1.8T

Note that many strategies and ESG analysis and portfolio management approaches can be overlapping.

Lisa Woll, US SIF Foundation CEO explains: “Money managers and institutional investors are using ESG criteria and shareholder engagement to address a plethora of issues including climate change, sustainable natural resources and agriculture, labor, diversity, and political spending. Retail and high net worth individuals are increasingly using this investment approach, with $4.6 trillion in sustainable investment assets, a 50% increase since 2018.”

The 2020 Trends report counts two main strategies as “sustainable investing” – (1) the incorporation of ESG factors in analysis and management of assets and (2) filing shareholder resolutions focused on ESG issues.

What are the top issues for the professional asset owners, their managers, and other investment professionals participating in the survey? Gauging the leading ESG issues for 2018-to-2020, examining the number of shareholder proposals filed, the Trends report charts the following in order of importance:

  • Corporate Political Activity
  • Labor & Equal Employment Opportunity
  • Climate Change
  • Executive Pay
  • Independent Board Chair
  • Special Meetings
  • Written Consent
  • Human Rights
  • Board Diversity

Looking at the 2020 Trends report, we have to say — we’ve certainly come a long, long way over the years. When first Trends survey was conducted at the end of 1995, the total AUM was just US$639 billion. The shift to sustainable, responsible, impact investment was underway! (The report released on November 16th is the 13th in the series.)

For information about the US SIF Report on US Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends 2020, and to purchase a copy of the report: https://www.ussif.org/trends

Governance & Accountability Institute is a long-time member of the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF) and a sponsor of the 2020 Trends report. US SIF is the leading voice advancing sustainable and impact investing across all asset classes.

Members include investment management and advisory firms, mutual fund companies, asset owners, research firms, financial planners and advisors, community investment organizations, and not-for-profits. The work is supported by the US SIF Foundation that undertakes educational and research efforts to advance SIF’s work.

Louis Coppola, G&A EVP and Co-founder, is chair of the SIF Company Calls Committee that arranges meetings of SIF member organizations with publicly-traded companies to discuss their ESG/Sustainability efforts.

US SIF Trends 2020 Report Published November16, 2020:

Rising Heat & Humidity, Rising Sea Levels, Up & Down Shifts in Crop Yields, More Large Fires, Huge Human Migration Within the United States -– What We Are Learning Today

September 24 2020

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

There is so much going on in the global sustainability space that we could draw an apt analogy – it’s “like drinking water not out of a straw but a fire hose!”

Every week our team seeks out the news, feature and research items that will help you stay informed on developments in corporate sustainability and CSR, sustainable investing, the actions of governments and civil society leadership, activists, academics & researchers…and more.

For the past two or three years the pace of these developments has accelerated and so created a long list of many “possibilities” to share with you.  Sometimes, certain news jumps up and shouts at us from the print or digital page.

Example:  This week we see a powerful accounting of the impacts of climate change as assembled by ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit journalism organization focused on the major issues of the day.   The collaborating journalists – at ProPublica and The New York Times with support from the non-profit Pulitzer Center — focused on “the compounding calamities of climate risk” and the projected impact on the continental U.S.A. over the coming decades.

The issues “stack on top of one another”, they write.  Such as rising heat, excessive humidity, oceans rising, very large fires, crop failures, economic damages, and more…scary projections for the 2040-2060 timeframe.   (That is starting only 20 years, or 240 months, just 1,000+ weeks away!)

ProPublica worked with data from the Rhodium Group, which when presented in the context of the report, tell a story of warming temperatures, and changing rainfall that will drive agriculture and temperate climates from south to north, as the sea levels rise and vast amounts of coastlines “are consumed” and dangerous levels of humidity “swamp the Mississippi River Valley”.

All of this will profoundly interrupt the way that we in this, the world’s largest economy, will live and farm and work later in this century.  This could be an era to be marked by mass migration within the U.S.A., far outpacing the dramatic “Great Black Migration” with large populations moving from southern states to the north, profoundly reshaping this Land.

The data is presented in maps and county-by-county review; you can in the visuals presented see how the temperate zone marches north and more…for corn and soy production, harvests will decrease and increase, depending on location in the country.

Economic impact? (Serious projections to consider today while we experience dislocation now due to the Coronavirus pandemic include rising energy costs, lower labor productivity, poor crop yields, increase in crime and more.

Which counties will rise and which, fall?  The maps tell the story.

This reportage was so important and timely that the NY Times published a comprehensive wrap up this weekend in the Sunday magazine (reaching well beyond two million print and digital subscribers).   We present this important reportage for you in the Top Stories.

Timeliness:  This is also Climate Week, with important digital and some physical meetings around the world to focus on climate change challenges. We’re sharing some of the coverage of that as well.

 

Top Stories

Americans Tuning in to Sustainability During Crises, Expecting “More” from Government and Corporate Sector

August 27 2020

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

According to responses to a June on-line survey of 2,000 adults in the U.S.A. for “clean manufacturing” leader Genomatica, sustainability is now a top-of-mind issue, with an overwhelming majority (85% of respondents) of Americans indicating they’ve been thinking about sustainability the same amount or more…and 56% want brands and government to prioritize sustainability even in the midst of the crises (Coronavirus, economic downturn – plus civil unrest).

According to Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling: “The collective consciousness on sustainability is rising, and certainly faster than most would have expected during these unprecedented times.

While this shift has been underway for decades, and is particularly strong in Europe, many of us in the U.S. have been inspired by the rapid improvement in air quality and traffic that shine a bright light on how our behaviors and decisions impact our environment and quality of life.”

Other interesting survey findings:

  • 59% of Americans say working from home is more sustainable than working in an office.
  • 37% of Americans are willing to pay a little more for sustainable products, even during an economic downturn. Gen-Z is the most willing age group, at 43%.
  • Half of Americans won’t be comfortable using sharing economy services like Uber or Airbnb (53%), riding public transportation (54%) or carpooling (50%) until there is a vaccine, if ever.

There’s more findings in the Top Story link below:

Part of the “sustainability thinking” is about personal investments…and how to do well financially while doing good with one’s financial activities.

A new report published by the foundation of The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF) explores the growth of passive ESG investing and the outpace of investor flows into passive vs. active ESG funds.

The report shows that “net flows into passively-managed ESG funds have in recent years outpaced net flows into their actively managed counterparts” — despite the fact that “the vast majority of sustainably-invested assets are in actively-managed ESG funds.”

Meg Voorhes, Director of Research at the US SIF Foundation explains:  “The advent of passive ESG funds provides more options to investors seeking sustainable impact, and we encourage these fund managers to make commitments to comprehensive ESG approaches.”

Follow Up to Last Week
In last week’s Highlights we told you about Morgan Stanley’s pioneering move to join the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (“PCAF”).  The update:  Citi and Bank of America are on board, too.  Great news moving toward the low-carbon economy. 

Citi, Bank of America join Morgan Stanley in carbon-disclosure group

Individual news releases from the banks with the details:

Lively Discussions: The Move Toward Harmonized Corporate ESG / Sustainability Reporting

September 22 2020

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

There are lively discussions going on, centered on improving publicly-traded company disclosure and reporting – and especially ESG reporting…that is, storytelling about the company’s “non-financials” (in accounting-speak).  And the story of the corporate sustainability story for those-in-the-know!

The proliferation of ESG / sustainability reporting frameworks, standards, information platforms, industry guidance, stock exchange guidance and much more has been astounding in recent years.

We think of all this as about the organizing of the storytelling about a company’s sustainability journey and what the enterprise has accomplished. 

And why the story matters to society…to investors, employees, customers, suppliers, communities…and other stakeholders.

And it has a been a long journey to the state of today’s expanding corporate ESG disclosure.

The start of mandating of periodic financial and business mandated disclosure goes back to the 1930s with passage of landmark federal legislation & adopted implementation (compliance) rules for publicly-traded companies in the United States.

Corporate financial disclosure in concept is all about providing shareholders (and potential investors) with the information they need to make buy-sell-hold decisions.

The sturdy foundations of mandated corporate disclosure in the U.S. are the laws passed after the 1929 stock market crash – the 1933 Securities Act and 1934 Exchange Act.  These laws and the bodies of rules deriving from them have been constantly updated over the years, including with Sarbanes Oxley legislation in 2002 and Dodd Frank in 2010. These mandate or guide and otherwise provide the rules-of-the-road for financial disclosure for company managements.

Disclosure has steadily moved well beyond the numbers – Sarbanes-Oxley updated the 1930’s laws and addressed many aspects of corporate governance, for example.

Voluntary Disclosure & Reporting – ESG Issues & Topics
Over the past 40 years, beyond the financials, corporate voluntary non-financial disclosure has been steadily increasing, as investors first embraced “socially responsible investing” and moved on to sustainable & responsible & impact investing in the 21st Century.

Asset owner and asset manager (internal and external) requests for ESG information from publicly-traded companies in portfolio has steadily expanded in the depth and breadth of topic and issue areas that institutional investors are focused on – and that companies now address in significantly-expanded ESG disclosures.

Today, investor interest in ESG / sustainability and related topics areas is widespread throughout asset classes – for equities, equity-focused products such as imutual funds and ETFs, fixed-income instruments, and now credit risk, options and futures, fixed assets (such as real estate), and more.

With today’s dramatic increase in corporate sustainability & ESG reporting, the maturation of reporting frameworks and standards to help address the internal need for better organizing non-financial data and information and accompanying ESG financial disclosure.

And all of this in the context of trying to meet investor demands.  Today with expanded ESG disclosure, corporate executives find that while there are more resources available to the company, there is also more confusion in the disclosure process.   Investors agree.

Common Complaints:  Lack of Comparability, Confusion, Demand for Change
The result of increasing demand by a widening range of investors for accurate, detailed corporate ESG information and the related proliferation of reporting frameworks and standards can and has resulted in confusion among investors, stakeholders and companies as to what is important and material and what is frill.

This especially as corporate managements embrace various elements of the available frameworks and standards and industry guidance and ESG ratings for their still-voluntary ESG reporting.

So where do we go from here?  In our selection of Top Stories for you, we bring you news from important players in the ESG reporting process as they attempt to move in the direction of more uniform, comprehensive, meaningful and decision-ready corporate ESG reporting. That investors can rely on.

The news for you is coming from GRI, SASB, GSSB, IIRC, CDSB, and CDP (among others) – all working to get on the same page.

The aim: to benefit corporate reporters – and the users of the reports, especially capital market players.

Because in the end, ESG excellence is all about winning in the competition for access to capital. Accurate, timely, comprehensive comparable ESG information is key!

Top Stories

As Summer 2020 Nears End in Northern Hemisphere – Quo Vadis, Corporate Sustainability and ESG/Sustainable Investing?

September 14 2020

By Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

This has been a strange summer in the northern climes, as the corporate sector and capital markets players meet the challenges of the Big Three crises — Corona virus pandemic, economic downturn, and widespread civil protests.

In times of crises (and as we have at least three major crisis situations occurring all at once to deal with this summer) certain actions may take a back seat.  Not so with forward movement of corporate sustainability and ESG/sustainable investing in summer 2020.

We bring you brief updates on some of these trends that continue to shape the interactions of companies and their providers of capital.

First –– worldwide, ESG/sustainable investing index funds reach a record of US$250 billion, with the crises appearing to accelerate investors’ moves into these passive and actively managed investment instruments.

Consider:

  • Before COVID-19, sustainability funds were already experiencing major growth, with assets doubling over the past three years.
  • Actively-managed ESG mutual funds continue to attract the lion’s share of dollars and represent a much larger portion of the sustainable investing landscape. Combined inflows into both active and passive ESG-focused funds reached $71.1 billion during the second quarter — pushing global AUM above the $1 trillion mark for the first time.
  • In the USA, sustainable index funds still make up less than 1% of the market – lots of room for growth here!
  • According to a recent survey conducted by Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing, nearly 95% of Millennials are interested in sustainable investing, while 75% believe that their investment decisions could impact climate change policy.

On the corporate sustainability side, Goldman Sachs shares the view that oil & gas enterprises could lead the way into a lower-carbon economy. Perhaps.  Will take leadership and action – very soon.

The sector’s leading equities players limped in value this summer and there are many challenges still ahead – but, says a Goldman Sachs report, a new European Union rule in 2021 could accelerate the oil & gas companies’ shift into more sustainable activities.  The industry leaders can leverage their brands and trading capabilities to acquire power customers, thinks GS analysts.  And exert leadership.

And the “octopus” that many retailers see encircling their businesses, Amazon, is pushing ahead with The Climate Pledge (founded by Amazon and Global Optimism in September 2019) with an important commitment:  meeting the Paris Agreement goals a decade early!

Info: https://sustainability.aboutamazon.com/about/the-climate-pledge

Mercedes-Benz is the latest signatory to the pledge.  And look at what these moves can mean in practical business terms:  Amazon will add 1,800 electric Mercedes-Benz vans to its delivery fleet in Europe in 2020!  Other big-name corporate signatories include Verizon, Infosys, and Reckitt Benckiser.

Not quite a quiet summer in the corporate sector and capital markets, we would say!

On to Fall now in the Northern climes and a most welcome Spring season in the Southern Hemisphere, 2020 into 2021.

These are the Top Stories picks for you this week – and there are important items in the categories as well.  Happy Welcome to Autumn and Spring, wherever you are from the G&A Institute team.

Top Stories

The Financial Sector and Corporate Universe – the “ESG Factors” Are Now Everywhere When Companies Seek Capital

September 8 2020

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

The roots of today’s “sustainable investing” approaches go back decades; the organizing principle often was often around  what investors viewed as “socially responsible”, “ethical”, “faith-based” and “values” investing, and by other similar titles.

“SRI” over time evolved into the more dominant sustainable or ESG investing in the 21st Century — with many more mainstream investors today embracing the approach.

And busily shaping trends, there is a universe of ESG ratings agencies and information distributors providing volumes of ESG ratings, scores, rankings and opinions to institutional investor clients and a broad base of asset managers, index creators and more.

Recently, the three major credit risk agencies increased their focus on ESG factors for their investor and lending clients.

Access to and cost of capital for companies is a more complicated situation today for financial executives  — and the steady flow of “sustainable investing” products to asset owners and asset managers increases the importance of a publicly-traded firm “being in” the sustainable product for institutional and retail investors.

Such as having the company being present in an ever-wider range of ESG indexes, benchmarks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and now even options and futures.

All of this can and does increase pressures on the publicly-traded corporation’s management to develop, or enhance, and more widely promote the company’s “public ESG profile” that financial sector players will consider when investing, lending, insuring, and more.

The latest expansion / adoption of ESG approaches for investable products are from Cboe Global Markets.

The new “Cboe S&P 500 ESG Index”(r) options (trading starts September 21) will align with investor ESG preferences, says the exchange.

The traditional S&P 500 index is a broad-based equity benchmark used by thousands of investment managers and is the leading equities benchmark representing about 85% of total USA publicly-traded equities (all large-cap companies).  Availability to investment managers of the S&P 500 ESG Index is a more recent development.

The S&P 500® Index (equities) measures the stock performance of 500 large-cap companies whose issues are traded on US stock exchanges.  It was created in 1957.

The newer S&P 500 ESG Index targets the top 75% of companies in the 500 universe within their GICS® industry group.(Exclusions include tobacco, controversial weapons and UNGC non-compliance.) Asset managers link sustainability-focused products for investors to this index, including Invesco and State Street (SPDRs) for their ETFs.

Note that the S&P 500 ESG Index uses S&P DJSI ESG scores and other data to select companies for inclusion —  increasing the importance of the Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA) that for two decades has been used to create the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (“DJSI”). (The CSA is managed by SAM, now a unit of S&P Global.)

About Futures:  In November 2019 CME Group launched its CME E-mini S&P 500 ESG Index futures as a risk management tools — aligning, it pointed out, with ESG values.

About the CME Group: You probably know the Chicago-based firm by its units, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, New York Mercantile Exchange, Chicago Board of Trade, Kansas City Board of Trade, and others.  The organization’s roots go back to 1848 as the Chicago Board of Trade was created. This is the world’s largest financial derivatives exchange trading such things as futures for energy, agriculture commodities, metals, interest rates, and stock indexes.

Investors have access to fixed-income instruments and foreign exchange trading (such as Eurodollars).  The “trading pit” with shouted orders and complicated hand signals are features many are familiar with. Of course CME has electronic platforms.

About Cboe Global Markets:  This is one of the world’s largest exchange holding companies (also based in Chicago) and offers options on more than 2,000 companies, almost two dozen exchanges and almost 150 ETFs.  You probably have known it over the years as the Chicago Board Options Exchange, established by the Chicago Board of Trade back in April 1973.  (The exchange is regulated by the SEC.)

The Cboe offers options in US and European debt and equity issues, index options, futures, and more.  The organization itself issued its own first-time ESG report for 2019 performance, “referencing” GRI, SASB, TCFD, SDGs, and the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE), Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiatives. Now ESG is part of the mix.

Considering equities, fixed-income, stock indexes, futures, options, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, financial sector lending, “green bonds” and “green financing” – for both publicly-traded and privately-owned companies the ESG trends are today are very much an more important part of the equation when companies are seeking capital, and for the cost of capital raisedl.

And here clearly-demonstrated and communicated corporate ESG leadership is critical to be considered for becoming a preferred ESG issuer for many more investors and lenders.

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