Is Your Mutual Fund or ETF Really “Green” or “Sustainable”? How Do You Know? More Disclosure by Fund Managers and Advisors May Be Coming…

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

What is it about an investable product – a mutual fund, an exchange traded fund (ETF) – that would qualify it as an “ESG” or “sustainable investment” offering to the retail or institutional investor?

That’s a question getting more attention recently.

S&P Global has issued a report that says only 12 percent of so-called “green” or “environmental” investment funds are on track to meet the global climate goals agreed to at the Paris Agreement / COP 21 meetings in 2015.

The goals agreed to by the community of almost 200 nations at that time: try to limit the global temperature to below 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels and aim for limiting the increase to 1.5C.

We are sharing some analysis of the S&P report by Mark Segal as published in ESG Today (he’s the founder of the web site).

He explains: S&P Global looked at about 12,000 equity funds and ETFs with US$20 trillion in total market value. Findings: about 300 funds (with $350 billion total valuation) used “green” in their name or investment objectives.

Looking then at the holdings (equities of corporations) using the S&P Global Trucost Paris Alignment Data for 17,000 companies in the universe of 12,000 funds, only 11% were really aligned with the Paris Agreement goals.

What about the smaller universe of 300 (the “green” funds)? Only about 12% were on track to meet Paris goals.

S&P Global noted that some funds are screening out publicly-traded fossil fuel companies for portfolios, including renewable energy companies, and some are engaging with portfolio companies to urge the firms de-carbonize their operations.

Conclusion: “Our analysis,” reports S&P, “points to a systemic issue. Few funds, even those that describe themselves as using green or climate-specific language, are on track to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement. Understanding the trajectory is an important step toward planning for a low-carbon future.”

The marketing of mutual funds and ETFs as “green” is being closely looked at by the Securities & Exchange Commission. SEC is focused on “enhancing ESG investment practices” of certain capital market players.

The agency in May proposed amendments to rules and reporting requirements of investment advisors and investment companies (that manage mutual funds and ETFs) to “promote consistent, comparable, and reliable information for investors” about funds’ and advisors’ incorporation of ESG factors.

The proposed rule would aim to categorize types of ESG investment strategies and require funds and advisors to be more specific in disclosures (such as in prospectuses, annual reports, brochures) to inform investors about ESG strategies being pursued.

Funds with strategies focused on the consideration of environmental factors would be required to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their portfolios. (That is, the GHG emissions of companies in the assembled portfolios of the mutual funds or ETFs.)

And, funds that use proxy voting and engagement with corporate issuers would be required to disclose their voting and engagement with companies on ESG-related matters.

Morningstar rates “sustainable mutual funds” among the thousands of funds rated by the firm’s analysts and its Sustainalytics unit.

Here’s a look into the challenges fund companies may face if the SEC rules are adopted: “This year has been difficult for many ESG funds,” writes Morningstar’s Katherine Lynch. “After years of solid performance, sustainable investing mutual funds have been roughed up, but a handful of strategies have been able to outperform.”

Which ones? Those holding energy stocks, which some investors in ESG try to avoid. Energy stocks are now outperforming, and most sustainable funds hold little or no oil companies in portfolio because of the connection of oil and gas consumption and climate change.

The conversation about “sustainable investing” and the criteria used by mutual fund management companies is sure to get more complicated in the days ahead.

Our G&A Institute team will continue to monitor developments and keep you updated on the changes to the mutual fund / ETF disclosure requirements.

Here are Top Stories for you to learn more:

  1. Less Than 10% of Climate Funds are Aligned with Global Decarbonization Goals: S&P (ESG Today )https://www.esgtoday.com/nearly-90-of-green-funds-are-not-aligned-with-global-climate-goals-sp/
  2. SEC Proposed to Enhance Disclosures by Investment Advisors and Investment Companies About ESG Investment Practices: https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2022-92
  3. 2022’s Top Sustainable Fund Weather a Tough Market: https://www.morningstar.com/articles/1097780/2022s-top-sustainable-funds-weather-a-tough-market



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