An inherent aspect of sustainability is about encouraging the players of a market economy to consider the long term. This is explicit in the European Commission’s Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth; one of the plan’s three aims is to ‘foster transparency and long-termism’. If all CEOs and investors were only concerned about the next few quarters, or even years, then it’s easy to understand how sustainable factors such as finite resources, climate change and diversity wouldn’t feature high on the agenda.
Of the recovery bills approved by global governments during the peak of the pandemic, little focused on a green recovery. Most were attentive to quick-acting programs to protect jobs and to ensure the survival of businesses.
There is a consensus emerging that society and investors are best served by companies that focus on sustainable value creation rather than short-term profit. Many companies communicate increasingly loudly about how sustainability is core to their purpose, producing shiny brochures full of positive stories and setting targets such as the wave of 2050 carbon neutrality targets seen in recent months. However, one of the great challenges of sustainable investing is identifying the difference between company rhetoric and action.
A documentary film called ‘Planet of the Humans’ was recently released online to much controversy. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it describes itself as a “full-frontal assault on our sacred cows’, arguing that renewable energy and green movements have been hijacked by the traditional form of capitalism, and that these technologies are not as good for the environment or society as we’re led to believe.
For four weeks now, the majority of our firm has worked from home. Thanks to a fantastic head of IT, and significant investment in video conferencing last year, our work has continued without a blip. Each in our own homes we’re able to use our systems, securely locate files from our drives and speak to each other face to video-face whenever we need to.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing enormous disruption to many parts of our lives – our health, our jobs, the economy, and our sense of security. It’s a devastating and global catastrophe. But one small silver lining is that it is creating a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realise the environmental effect of our usual levels of human activity, and how quickly the natural world rebounds when we’re quarantined at home.
European Small Cap Equity
We’re regularly baffled by the ESG scores for companies we know are committed to a sustainable future
We are often vocal about the shortcomings of ESG ratings. This frustration is particularly acute for our European Small Cap Equity team who invest in companies that often do not have any coverage from ESG agencies. For those that are rated, the grades rarely reflect what we understand of the company through our bottom-up analysis and regular company interaction. We’re regularly baffled by the ESG scores for companies we know are committed to a sustainable future.
In the incredibly volatility seen this week, we’ve seen some interesting trends and news items in sustainable investment. The pressure in the market is something of a day of reckoning for sustainable investment, as some critics might imagine that ESG credentials take second place when capital preservation becomes the priority. But so far ESG investment is showing itself to be sticky and attracting new investment from long-term investors during this volatile period. It’s a sign that ESG funds are making their way into model portfolios and long-term allocation strategies from advisors.
As we talk about the fossil fuel industry, there is a noteworthy disparity in the approach between the top six European producers and other global players when it comes to climate change. European firms have pledged to significantly reduce their carbon footprints alongside investing into innovative low-carbon technologies. These strategies are a response to the new European Green Deal. Conversely, American oil and gas companies as well as Russian, Chinese and Saudi nationalised companies seem not to take the same path.
The spotlight in recent weeks has shifted back upon the palm oil industry. The negative connotations associated with the sector have continued to deepen, but there is a growing number of producers who offer a differentiated product, one made with a focus on sustainability. Worldwide, demand for the commodity has continued to rise which brings nations and climate activists to a crossroad, wondering whether sustainable palm oil can be produced whilst fighting climate change.