A growing number of large institutional investors today are incorporating ESG metrics into their capital allocation and stewardship criteria. This shift toward sustainable finance—which has evolved beyond socially responsible investing to include asset management and ownership—has profound implications for investors and companies alike.
Some of the largest and most influential institutional investors and asset managers are at the forefront of a powerful movement to add environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) standards to their criteria for capital allocation. As long-term stewards of capital, they recognize a mandate to consider whether the companies they own today will maintain a strong connection both with their customers and extended communities as environmental and social challenges increasingly impact the way we live and work. They also recognize that companies that commit to addressing these urgent issues stand to realize greater business opportunities in the future—and thus will achieve higher returns for their long-term shareholders.
Institutional investors that are best poised for the future are those that actively engage with companies through the “power of purpose” instead of simply liquidating their shares and walking away from positions they perceive as questionable in the new climate. Such investors are far better placed to push their holdings in the direction of long-term sustainability through such measures as voting proxies and shareholder resolutions—or by initiating open dialogue with company leaders. Private sector companies and investors that follow this strategy can carve out a far more active role for themselves in the quest for diversity, environmental sustainability, and other important societal goals.
Two trending developments are motivating large investors to embrace sustainable finance and to engage directly with corporate executives and boards:
To guard against exposure to such events, investors understand that they can no longer treat sustainable financing as a niche practice. Asset managers, too, are increasingly shifting from policies that seek to avoid risk by excluding specific securities, in favor of strategies aimed at benefiting from companies that perform better on TSI issues. Examples include best-in-class and thematic investing; impact investments, such as low-carbon indices and green bonds; and seeking out companies that score well on gender diversity.
As of 2018, $30.7 trillion was being professionally managed globally under responsible investment strategies ranging from negative/exclusionary screening to corporate engagement…
…an increase of 34% in just two years, according to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance’s annual review.
These are still early days, however. Soon, we are likely to see sustainable financing morph into a more integrated, intentional approach. Investors will apply ESG integration and best-in-class analysis across all categories of assets in order to enhance their risk and return performance. Active ownership, too, will become an integrated model, with investors routinely engaging with boards and CEOs on companies’ efforts to increase diversity and address their environmental performance, just as they do now on executive compensation, corporate governance, and shareholder rights. Norms and negative screening will be used to inform engagement, not trigger exclusion.
Driving these developments is the increasingly critical role that private sector companies will play in addressing climate change, diversity, and other important societal issues—with large investors pushing them along this positive path. However, translating this investment strategy into tangible financial results for shareholders, both in the short and long term, requires insights into the steps that companies must take to heighten the impact and sustainability of their business models.
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BCG's consultants and industry experts focusing on socially responsible investing continue to partner with leading investors, asset managers, and private sector companies to support sustainable investment practices. These are some of our experts on this topic.