Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)-led investments have been thrust into the limelight over the last year. ESG-focused funds and impact investments delivered strong yields and gained additional investors, despite a broader pandemic-induced sell off. Conscious capitalism has shifted the focus for investment away from shareholders to the wider stakeholder community, reshaping the investment agenda towards one of sustainability and long-term gain.
Is ESG enough?
Progressive policy is fuelling momentum for this trend, encouraging the private sector to Build Back Better and helping set legal precedents. With the race to achieve carbon neutrality at the top of many business agendas, leaders now have a better understanding of the scale of the challenge ahead. More businesses are now stepping up and addressing pressing issues like climate change, but is ESG enough to deliver the changes necessary?
By 2025, a predicted third of global assets under management will have an ESG-led mandate. Should the forecast USD 53 trillion of institutional capital be allocated with ESG considerations, this will represent more than a doubling of such investment in the decade from 2016. Yet based on current investment and global indicators, social inequality is still on the rise – especially in developing markets – while the effects of climate change are worsening.
Throwing more money at these problems isn’t enough on its own – there has to be a more considered approach. Standardising ESG measurements, for example, means capital can be deployed more effectively and efficiently. Innovative financing models, like green and social bonds, are building resilience in emerging markets – often worst hit by the neglect of global capital allocation.
Lessons from Africa
In Africa, every dollar of impact capital has a more profound effect than in the developed world. Access to social goods is limited. Over half of the continent does not have a reliable electricity connection, while around only a fifth of people use the internet and secondary school enrolment is a mere 43 per cent. This lays bare the level of development required, especially at a time when equality between the developed and developing world grows wider as a consequence of Covid-19.
The continent is ahead of the curve when it comes to ESG and impact investing, being rooted in development finance. With adequate funding, it is well positioned to allocate capital to close the divide. Gong client, Old Mutual Alternative Investments (OMAI), is one of the continent’s leaders in this regard. Its investments are guided by the UN’s SDGs and assessed according to 90 separate impact measurements. As such, they are improving access to affordable education and housing, while also addressing gender and racial inequality.
OMAI’s approach acknowledges the nuances of the investment environment, while shaping how best to generate social impact returns as well as above-market financial performance. This is evident in the infrastructure arm of OMAI’s business – African Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM). The resilience of its portfolio, including renewable energy, has been proven through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Renewable energy plants stood strong and digital infrastructure remained robust as demand for their services increased. According to the UNDP, for every dollar spent on resilience-building infrastructure, like renewable energy, the economic return is fourfold. So where the conversation of Building Back Better in Europe and America is centred on climate change, in Africa it is equally about development.
The developed world’s perspective
Across the world, the coronavirus pandemic has realigned investing priorities and funds are allocating a larger proportion of their portfolios to generating impact. Over a fifth of retail investors in the UK plan to dedicate capital to impact generation. That proportion is even larger among people under 35, as they are more willing to trade financial returns for social ones.
Meanwhile, we have witnessed the formation of multiple financial alliances across the institutional investment space over the last five years, driven by the same goal: to achieve carbon neutrality. Our infographic demonstrates how this movement – which most recently has been given additional fuel by the UN-backed Race to Zero campaign – has gained momentum over time.
In the UK, we continue to see the trend for institutional investment being deployed responsibly among pension funds. The Make My Money Matter campaign, which asks pension funds to halve the emissions of portfolios by 2030, has united over 50 employers, including Gong, in tackling the climate crisis.
ESG really is starting to make a difference. Growing awareness, a generational shift and mounting investor pressure combined with more systematic carbon reporting is accelerating the move to improved global sustainability. As we move away from greenwashing and ESG as window-dressing, the demonstrable benefits of a concerted commitment to sustainability are reasons for optimism.