Urgent Needs for 2018

By John Streur, President and CEO, Calvert Research & Management
Dec 27, 2017 7:15 AM ET

Originally published by GreenMoney Journal

Aligning the capital markets more directly with the urgent needs we face as a society to halt environmental destruction and reverse decades of worsening inequality must be our priority for 2018. Alignment needs to occur at every level, across the global markets.

Despite the tremendous efforts behind the Paris Climate Accord, formalization of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and a long history of other efforts to change the course of climate change and inequality, we are not making nearly the progress needed. The 1,700 signatories to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, which represent $70 trillion of assets and a wave of press about environmental, social and governance-oriented investing, have not gotten us on track. Even another documentary by Al Gore has not done the trick.

It is essential that we develop the tools to strengthen our investment system, getting much more capital moving away from laggard companies into companies that can drive positive change, and to make systemic changes to raise the bar for all companies. This is especially important now because the responsible and impact investment movement is being joined by massive mainstream investment firms, and the largest banks in the world are entering this business. If the tools are inadequate, we will all be gravely disappointed and the responsible and impact investing movement will fail. However, we also have an excellent opportunity to strengthen the tools and the system as we are joined by the mainstream.

Tool Number One: Data and Transparency

We need to develop information systems that allow company management, consumers, regulators, the public and investors to have insight into the social and environmental impacts that companies are creating. Various efforts are underway to create tools that are helpful in this regard and can be leveraged to translate global norms into a framework that can be used to measure how responsibly businesses are operating.

Calvert recently completed a case study with this goal in mind, linking the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) materiality matrix with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SASB has developed a materiality-focused approach that aligns well with the investment research approach of Calvert, emphasizing sustainability issues that we believe will most impact a company’s financial performance over the long term. The SDGs provide a similar, parallel framework for nation-states and national programming, which emphasize key development goals, the achievement of which is necessary to reach sustained, equitable, economic growth and prosperity for all citizens. 

Calvert’s mapping exercise identified common themes between SASB Standards and the UN SDGs. This involved matching each of SASB’s disclosure topics on financially material ESG issues and related accounting metrics, across SASB-defined sectors and industries, with the SDGs and related targets. We found that a substantial portion – 71 percent – of SASB metrics map to the SDGs and their related targets, which helps us to identify industries in which the SDGs are most likely to be financially material. This enables us to see a clearer path to investments most likely to achieve the SDGs and related positive societal outcomes, as well as those that may be better positioned to generate positive financial outcomes.

In addition, initial assessment finds that 66 percent of SASB accounting metrics could be mapped, with varying degrees of exactness (ranging from “proxy” to “exact match”), to ESG data vendor indicators. This insight brings to light the information gap that exists between an evolving corporate disclosure environment and traditional investor resources. It also highlights that, as the web of disclosure requirements and standards for corporations grows larger and more complex, finding commonalities between these standards can benefit companies and stakeholders by distilling what is most relevant and material. You can read the full study on www.calvert.com

In addition to these efforts, company managements need to develop internal reporting tools in order to provide information that their teams can use, and investors and all other stakeholders can see, in order to drive change. These tools need to tie the specific sustainability efforts to financial impacts at the company.

The resulting information needs to be made transparent for two major reasons. First, we need to know if we have priced carbon, water, pollution and various social impacts properly; understanding the financial impacts within companies is critical to building this understanding. Second, investors and consumers need to see these relationships in order to properly price stocks and bonds, and to understand the total costs of products. For instance, if one company uses materials grown in ways that destroy the rain forest, and another company uses sustainable raw materials, we need to know the economic impact and adjust prices to prevent the first company from reaping profits at the expense of the environment and society. Otherwise, this situation will persist and we will never make real progress.

All the current efforts related to sustainability reporting are voluntary, and are not tied together in any coordinated manner. We need to coalesce around a set of standards and drive the development of information management systems to create the relevant data. In 2018, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board’s standards will be formalized and we really need companies to get started using them.

Responsible investors also need this information in order to drive impactful corporate engagement. We need to spend more of our engagement time pressing for change, as opposed to asking for disclosure.

Tool Number Two: Impact Reporting

As we strengthen our information systems, we will be able to provide impact reporting to multiple parties. In order to achieve the changes we need to address inequality and climate risk, we need people to understand the impact of their product purchase decisions, employees to understand the impact of their day-to-day business decisions, boards to have information to properly oversee management’s sustainability effort, investors be able to differentiate the quality and financial materiality of competitive companies’ sustainability efforts, and regulators and the public to hold companies accountable for their impacts. The entire system needs to tie together, just like our current financial reporting system connects.

More on Tool Number Two and John's Bio here - http://greenmoneyjournal.com/urgent-needs-for-2018/