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Jan 25, 2019

Five trends changing the ESG investing landscape in 2019

In this guest article, State Street Global Advisors’ Rakhi Kumar and Alison Weiner outline how investors are approaching ESG integration

The field of ESG investing has undergone rapid changes in recent years. Below, we share five trends we’re seeing in the space, and what they mean for investors.

Trend one: Investors are moving from purely exclusionary to integrated ESG strategies

For decades, asset owners have used exclusionary strategies to keep securities that did not align with their values out of their portfolios. Increasingly, we see investors embrace ESG investing due to the ‘value’ it offers to long-term investors. Investors are looking at ESG factors not as separate considerations, but as complementary data to be integrated alongside traditional financial information.

Three reasons are behind this trend:

  • The proliferation of ESG data providers in the 2000s means that by now more historical ESG data is available for research, which increasingly shows that material ESG information can be a value driver to be considered in the investment processes
  • The development of market infrastructures such as the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board Framework has encouraged companies to report their ESG activities in ways that are material to investors
  • Regulatory action, particularly in Europe, will mandate investors to consider ESG information in their investment processes.

It is important to note that exclusions and integration are not mutually exclusive approaches to ESG investing, and exclusionary screens are often an overlay in an integrated approach. This allows investors to build ESG portfolios that closely align with their objectives.

Trend two: Investment strategies will be increasingly powered by multiple sources of ESG data

Historically, investors have been reliant on a single source of ESG data to inform their investment processes. This data typically comes from third-party providers. Most providers employ their own proprietary methodologies, and recent research by State Street Global Advisors shows there is often low correlation between how different data providers score the same universe of companies. Therefore, choosing a data provider also means choosing that provider’s ESG investment philosophy.

In response, we increasingly see investors embracing investment solutions that are based on multiple providers. For example, some investment consultants are starting to favor investment strategies that are informed by multiple sources of ESG data. We expect this to become increasingly common across the industry in the coming years.

Trend three: Growing demand to understand ESG performance of the portfolio against desired objectives will drive the need for enhanced reporting

With investors looking at ESG as a value-based dimension of their portfolio, they increasingly want to understand ESG performance the same way they would any other traditional financial measure.

This, along with demand from beneficiaries and stakeholders for greater insight into the ESG profile of their investments, is leading to greater interest in robust ESG reporting along dimensions such as carbon intensity, controversy exposure and overall ESG profile.

Trend four: Climate solutions will evolve to include adaptation alongside mitigation

For asset owners that seek to invest in a way that is aware of and responsive to climate change, solutions in the marketplace have traditionally focused on mitigation: reducing the effects of climate change on a portfolio by, for example, reducing exposure to greenhouse gases and increasing exposure to ‘green’ energy companies.

As extreme weather events become more frequent and the economic impacts of climate change more widely understood and accepted, investors will require companies to disclose how they are adapting their business strategies to accommodate the impacts of climate change. This is particularly true of investors that are committed to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.

Consequently, management and boards will need to fully incorporate climate change into their long-term strategies. Investors on the leading edge of climate investing will seek to enhance their climate investment from pure mitigation strategies to those that align to a mitigation and adaptation investment thesis.

Trend five: Mainstreaming of ESG will drive investments in talent and infrastructure

ESG investing no longer lives in a silo as it once did. Increasingly, ESG is being integrated into the routine investment processes of asset managers. Because of this, the demand for experienced ESG professionals is acute. ESG investing is a specialized field that requires interdisciplinary knowledge and a variety of capabilities: deep investment expertise, strong policy and strategic analysis, and the ability to communicate with stakeholders that often use differing ESG-related terminology.

To build robust ESG capabilities, firms will require talent that can do each of these things well. It also will require training of current investment and sales teams, as well as investments in data, analytics and reporting infrastructure to allow for full integration.


This article was originally published on the State Street Global Advisors blog.

The views expressed in this material are the views of Rakhi Kumar through the period ended 12/31/18 and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This document contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected.

The whole or any part of this work may not be reproduced, copied or transmitted or any of its contents disclosed to third parties without SSGA’s express written consent.

The trademarks and service marks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners. Third-party data providers make no warranties or representations of any kind relating to the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of the data and have no liability for damages of any kind relating to the use of such data

Alison Weiner

Alison Weiner

Investment manager, ESG investment strategist, State Street Global Advisors
Rakhi Kumar

Rakhi Kumar

Senior managing director, head of ESG investments and asset stewardship, State Street Global Advisors