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Sep 11, 2018

Norwegian SWF shines spotlight on ocean sustainability

Companies missing trick on ocean sustainability commitments, adds Business for Social Responsibility

Norway’s $1 tn sovereign wealth fund (SWF), Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), is calling on companies to act on ocean sustainability issues, saying it ‘expects companies to manage the challenges and opportunities related to sustainable uses of the ocean.’

‘Companies should ascertain that material ocean-related risks and opportunities are integrated into corporate strategy, risk management and reporting,’ says Yngve Slyngstad, CEO of NBIM, in a statement outlining the fund’s sustainability expectations. ‘The ocean is a vital part of the biosphere and an important part of the global economy.’ 

Awareness of ocean sustainability has grown in recent times. Plastic pollution is a well-documented issue but ocean acidification – where seas absorb man-made carbon emissions, changing the pH of surface waters – has seen oceans acidifying faster than they have in 300 mn years, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) is a global non-profit business network and consultancy dedicated to sustainability. Commenting on NBIM’s announcement, Charlotte Bancilhon, BSR manager, says: ‘Plastic in the ocean has been a hot topic in the past year. It is not surprising to see a major investor, such as NBIM, clarify its expectations toward companies on this, and companies should expect similar announcements from the investment community in the future.’

Indeed, according to Bancilhon, ESG issues are an increasing consideration for the investment community, including SWFs. ‘In the past two years, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented move by mainstream investors to integrate ESG issues into their investment decisions,’ she observes. ‘SWFs and other institutional investors, which invest on behalf of long-term savers and taxpayers, are interested in the long-term value of their investments and are increasingly vocal about ESG.’

But in spite of the publicity surrounding ocean sustainability and the growing awareness of ESG issues, BSR’s own research, due for release next week, reveals that ocean sustainability ranks the lowest in terms of its 150 member companies’ commitments to sustainable development goals (SDGs).  

Acting on this would give corporates an opportunity to set themselves apart from the competition, Bancilhon advises. ‘Our 2018 State of Sustainable Business Survey reveals that only 11 percent of companies have pledged commitments to [sustainable goal 14] on Life under Water, which is the smallest percentage of corporate commitments of any of the SDGs,’ she says. ‘This means companies have an opportunity to take a leadership position on this issue today by taking a holistic view of their impacts on ocean life across their value chains.’