If all the stories of ESG fund management, Impact Investing reports, mandates, commitments, one would thing that we are a tipping point. Sustainable investing is just about to breakthrough bigtime, and we all be awash in cash looking for social, environmental, and financial returns. Having done the TBLI conference for over 13 years I am often asked, is the glass half full, half empty or just empty?
We have seen significant money flows in low carbon activities, social investing, cleantech, Esg public equity analysis, Esg fixed income on sovereign and corporate side, and of course lots of ribbon cutting (press releases). Has the definition changed to allow more new members into the club? I think more and more investors for communications reason want to wear the badge that they are doing something. I don't believe "that all that glitters is gold". In general, I think there is a great tendency to accept a very weak cola light version, rather than going for the "real thing". The financial community want to have the membership to the fitness club of sustainability but they don't want to get on the scales to see if they lost weight.
This behavior is true for asset owners and asset managers; including pension funds, endowments, high net worth, grant making foundations, church, ngo's. If you look at the dramatic growth of Sri in the Netherlands, 48 billion euros to 480 billion euros over two year period. One would be thrilled, but the reality is that many funds filtered out certain companies, like cluster bomb manufacturers and then claimed the whole portfolio as clean or and Sri or Esg fund. Putting on a nice coat when you are overweight doesn't make you thin.
Engagement- Schmoozing or pressuring?
Engaging with a company to say "we are talking" without true behavioral change serves whom? Does engagement actually increase the share price or even change behavior? The rockefellers have tried to influence the company that they founded, exxon (formerly standard oil), to embrace fuel free energy system (renewable energy) without success. Does engagement work only when a company is failing financially?