WHITEPAPER

October 26, 2017

Making an impact by defining the right mix of ESG strategies

By Pascal Blanqué

Whilst supranational institutions and NGOs have for too long been alone on the front lines of the battle against poverty, corruption, and resource depletion, both companies and the finance sector are now fully aware of the role they have to play in the transition to a more sustainable economy. So-called “megatrends” – demographics, globalisation, the environment, societal evolution – act as disruptive forces and offer growth potential for investors. The motivations of asset owners have evolved; they have become more elaborate, more complex and more meaningful, and now include topics that go beyond the unique consideration of achieving financial performance. Even if performance remains the primary objective, investors now want their portfolios to have an impact on both the environment and society, and want to measure the efficiency of this choice.

The search for Impact

Dealing with issues like climate change, ending child labour, improving work practices, reducing waste, safeguarding water resources – all these will only be properly tackled by changing behaviours over time, and continuing to do so. That means a continuous process of incremental change improving environmental, social and governance (ESG) impact. Whilst responsible investment was limited for a long time to a few pioneering investors, it has now become a major consideration for all long-term investors. There are now many who have realised that ignoring ESG challenges entails running risks for their portfolios. And equally, at the other end, new opportunities for creating return have emerged.

Impact investing is carried out in many different forms, because the motivations behind it are multifold. The choice of impact investing could stem from a “value” approach, driven by research into social and environmental impact or motivated by ethical or moral considerations; from a “risk” approach, aiming to achieve optimal risk management (reputational, operational, financial or regulatory); from a “return” approach to profit from financial opportunities related to the energy transition for example; or even from a “duty” approach, meaning a management strategy that is in line with the investor’s fiduciary duty, legal obligations or beliefs of the most well-known NGOs.

In order to respond to requests related to these four “drivers”, which can be combined and interconnected in many ways, asset managers must provide a selection of financial and operational solutions, that can in the same way, be combined to varying degrees. Thus, if delivering performance remains the asset manager’s primary objective, its role also increasingly involves accompanying asset owners in the development of their impact strategy.

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