Standardizing ESG reporting, and making it mandatory, would be a start toward reliable ESG investing
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“Scam” or “dangerous placebo” are some of the terms used by critics to denounce Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing. Yet others see it as one of our last chances to pivot our financial world to a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly model.
ESG, a form of sustainable investing, is increasingly being used as a measure of how well a company is using its investment money. For investors looking to instigate change, ESG scores help them decide if a company is worth their money.
This is despite ESG dating back to 2006, when the U.N. launched the Principles for Responsible Investment at the New York Stock Exchange. The initiative was backed by leading institutions from 16 countries, representing more than $2 trillion in assets owned at the time.
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ESG critics and optimists have called on the government to use its power to fine tune ESG metrics and finally standardize it, in order to give it more credibility.
ESG not what it seems?
In 2021, ESG investment saw issuance exceeding US$1.6 trillion, bringing its total market to more than US$4 trillion. Not only that, but Bloomberg expects ESG assets to exceed US$53 trillion by 2025.
Fierce critics like Tariq Fancy — who worked as the chief investment officer for investment management firm BlackRock before leaving in late 2019 — made headlines with his disillusionment over ESG’s true impact.
“That $4 trillion isn’t really $4 trillion,” Fancy said, in reference to the widely-circulated figure.
For Fancy, the “vast majority” of what’s happening is that companies are “recategorizing existing funds and moving money and shares around from one basket to another…
“They’ve figured out that socially conscious investors will gladly pay more in fees for something with a ‘green’ label,” he said, adding that ESG funds have 43 per cent higher fees on average.
“Also, they don’t fund carbon capture and new innovations, for the most part they publicly overweight tech companies (Microsoft) and underweight oil companies (Exxon),” he added.
Also, regular investors mainly have access to secondary shares that are sold and purchased on a daily basis, which have little impact, argued Fancy.
“The changes we need immediately to flatten the [greenhouse gas] curve are collective actions led by the government — experts have been telling us this for decades,” he said.
As ESG investing rises, so do emissions
Like elsewhere, Canadian ESG investment is increasing, but, again like elsewhere, the nation hasn’t reduced its emissions in the past year.
A March, 2022 report from the International Energy Agency said that global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose by six per cent in 2021 to 36.3 billion tonnes — a new record — as the world bounced back from the pandemic.
ESG does make a difference
Art Lightstone, climate activist and host of the Green Neighbour Podcast, acknowledges ESG has its critics. But for him, this class of investing is still making a difference.
“The fact that ESG investing has not only helped to launch several green tech companies, but also encouraged less socially-minded companies to compete in ESG spaces is now pretty much undeniable,” Lightstone said. “Tesla is invariably the best case in point. The amount of investment directed toward Tesla and other EV startups has been mind boggling.”
While money can be moved from one shareholder to another, “that’s not where the story ends.” He cited the example of Tesla when it was “able to raise large amounts of capital [at market prices] with rather little dilution to its stock.”
“Tesla did this three times in 2020, and with that money they were able to build more factories, scale up their production, lower their per-unit costs, increase their profit margins, and therefore increase the economic viability of their entire operation,” he explained.
This expansion created a domino effect for legacy automakers such as GM and Ford, who are investing more in their electric vehicle programs.
Investing intentionally and collectively
Tim Nash, founder of Good Investing, a company with a goal to help at least one million Canadians invest intentionally, argues that informed decision-making can make the impact needed.
“People spend more time choosing an avocado in the grocery store than they spend when choosing a mutual fund for their RRSP,” Nash said.
Instead, he urged people to think more about their portfolios and ways to diversify, including carving out part of their portfolios for investment just “for doing more good.”
“This is where we can invest part of our money into things like community bonds and impact investments,” he explained.
Community bonds, a debt financing tool, are issued by non-profit, charity or co-operative organizations. They allow these groups to take loans from community backers. The backers will eventually get paid interest for investing in an impactful project, while the organization enjoys access to capital.
During the interview, Nash noted that he was located at the Centre for Social Innovation, a non-profit that owns two buildings in downtown Toronto.
“How does a non-profit own two buildings in downtown Toronto?” he asked. “Community bonds. That’s how they were able to access capital.”
Then there is also shareholder activism, and this is where Nash highlighted how shares that are publicly traded on a secondary market can be used as a powerful tool if used collectively.
“If I sell my shares, someone else is going to buy them. However, if enough people sell their shares that will impact a company’s cost of capital,” he said. “This is a very important metric when it comes to how a company operates.”
One example Nash cited as proof of effective shareholder activism is the increased cost of capital for fossil fuel companies. At the same time, there has been an unprecedented shifting of investment capital into greener energy.
Better knowledge needed
The financial industry needs to delve into the environmental sciences, sustainability, and systems thinking to have a more well-rounded view on how to make a full impact, Nash says.
“I do think that a lot of the criticisms come from the financial industry, people who don’t have a background (in these topics),” he said. “ESG is a very broad concept… We need everybody rowing together in the same direction.”
While the government is in a position to lead, it’s still caught up in a four-year election cycle, he added.
“It’s even shorter if it’s a minority government, which we’re in right now,” he noted.
Time to start mandating metrics on ESG
Nash put the onus on the Ontario Securities Commission, which regulates companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, to start mandating disclosures of ESG issues, as other regulators have done.
For example, the SEC in the U.S. is focused on the climate aspect of ESG. It mandates that all publicly traded corporations publish their environmental compliance costs, and proposed new rules in March to standardize climate-related disclosures to investors. The rules would require businesses to disclose information about their direct greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the indirect emissions from the energy the business consumes.
In Europe, the trend tends to lean more toward the corporate governance aspect of ESG. Under the 2018 Non-Financial Reporting Directive of the European Union, companies are expected to disclose information on environmental, social, and employee-related problems, such as anti-bribery, corruption, and human rights performance.
In Nash’s view, Japan is ahead of the curve with its Financial Services Agency actually mandating climate risk disclosure.
“Investors, I think, to some degree are demanding more data and information and disclosure than what governments are requiring,” he said. “This is an area where investors are asking tough questions and pushing that forward. That said, investors can ask, and companies get to decide how they respond. Many of them are responding in different ways.”
ESG optimists and critics alike want to see those regular investors emboldened to make the difference the world is waiting for.
This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.
President Vladimir Putin offered to have Russian Railways invest in Indonesia’s new capital, in a sign of warming ties with Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as the US and its allies seek to isolate Moscow.
(Bloomberg) — President Vladimir Putin offered to have Russian Railways invest in Indonesia’s new capital, in a sign of warming ties with Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as the US and its allies seek to isolate Moscow.
Putin said Moscow could take part in President Joko Widodo’s plan to move Indonesia’s capital to the island of Kalimantan from Jakarta, according to a statement by the Russian Embassy in the country. He made the comments during Jokowi’s visit to Moscow on Thursday, it said.
Nusantara, as the new capital will be called, is set to begin construction in August after the pandemic stalled its development. Jokowi has courted investors including Abu Dhabi and Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group to help build a renewable energy-powered city from scratch.
Russian energy companies are also keen to operate in Indonesia, especially in developing nuclear power, Putin added. Atomic energy is a key part of Indonesia’s net-zero emissions plan.
Indonesia has come under pressure by the US and other countries to prevent Putin from joining the Group of 20 summit, which is set to take place in Bali. The Russian leader made no comment on whether he’ll attend in person.
Ahmed Hussen, federal Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion –
“Everyone deserves a safe place to call home. Our government remains committed to working with our partners to ensure our seniors have access to housing that meets their needs. Today’s announcement is another important step in the right direction and will go a long way to support families in Saanich. This is the National Housing Strategy at work.”
Parm Bains, Member of Parliament for Steveston–Richmond East –
“This investment from the National Housing Co-investment Fund is improving the economic and social well-being of the individuals, seniors and families who will soon call Nigel House their home and will make Saanich a better place to live. When people have a secure and stable home, they gain the confidence they need to succeed and fulfill their potential.”
Fred Haynes, mayor, District of Saanich –
“It’s amazing what can happen when multiple stakeholders, including our local community associations, take a collaborative and proactive approach to challenges like housing. This project caters to a wide range of housing needs in Saanich and I look forward to seeing how it will enhance our community over the years to come.”
Derrick Bernardo, president and CEO, Broadmead Care –
“Broadmead Care has had a dream for years to build a new Nigel House. We are excited to see housing, health and social services coming together to make this dream a reality and more. The new Nigel House will be part of a beautiful community campus of care with a focus on aging in place, research and innovation.”
Geoffrey Ewert, CEO, Garth Homer Society –
“The Nigel Valley Project is a remarkable collaborative effort with the goal of meeting the needs of our diverse community. What we are creating is more than just housing – we are creating an inclusive community where people from all walks of life feel a true sense of belonging and have a place that feels like home.”
Bruce Homer, board chair, Garth Homer Foundation –
“The Nigel Valley project amplifies what can be achieved when stakeholders collaborate for the good of the community as a whole. Garth Homer is proud to be a part of this transformative initiative.”
Virginia Holden, executive director, Greater Victoria Housing Society –
“Greater Victoria Housing Society is really thrilled that we can increase the amount of affordable rental homes available in Saanich. We are very grateful to be a part of this strong partnership with the Province and other community non-profit organizations that will result in a transformation of this neighbourhood, and create a community where everyone feels at home.”
Chris Forester, executive director, Island Community Mental Health (ICMH) –
“Providing housing and recovery-oriented supports to people living with mental health challenges is at the heart of our work. ICMH is proud to partner in bringing 800 homes and the creation of an inclusive community to the Nigel Valley to serve so many of those in need.”
A hospital for Indigenous people and hundreds of new housing units are among the spending priorities laid out in an investment plan released Wednesday by a coalition of Indigenous-led organizations in Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle — a coalition of 32 member organizations that work to support Winnipeg’s Indigenous population — is proposing a 10-year, $620-million spending plan, which it believes will make Winnipeg a better, healthier place for its communities.
“It’s essentially just laying out … in dollar terms, where we need help and where we see funding gaps that we need to actually hit these objectives,” co-chair Kendall Joiner said at at the Neeginan Centre on Higgins Avenue, where the plan was unveiled on Wednesday.
Spending proposals are broken down into four priority areas: health and well-being, housing and homelessness prevention, supports for families, and employment and education.
One of the big-ticket items in the plan is a hospital specifically serving Indigenous people, estimated to cost $65 million.
The plan also calls for a commitment to build hundreds of new housing units, including supportive housing and units with rent geared to income, expected to cost at least $347 million.
Other priorities include $1 million for cultural programming through the Winnipeg Indigenous Friendship Centre and $1.2 million for the creation of Indigenous research institutes.
Leaders of the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle — whose membership includes organizations like Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, End Homelessness Winnipeg and the Eagle Urban Transition Centre — say the goals in the plan would promote and elevate the work Indigenous-led groups are already doing.
“We’re a community that’s always been told, ‘this is what you need to do to move forward,'” said Crystal Laborero, chief executive officer of the coalition group.
“I think we’re in a day and a time that we are now realizing that … we have a lot of leaders in the community that are looking to make change for the urban Indigenous community and we have the solutions. We’re the experts in our field, so we feel that we can do this.”
The coalition says the plan shows governments and donors exactly what it would take to make Winnipeg a more welcoming and safer place for people who are First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
Success will be measured not by dollar value, but by how willing governments are to come to the table as equals, and how willing they are to understand that the Indigenous-led groups that make up the coalition know exactly what their communities need, the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle said.
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