ESG

Citing fiduciary obligation, large asset managers and governmental plans representing approx. $5 trillion launch framework for engaging firearms industry as part of investment process

As reported by Bloomberg, a number of large institutional investors (especially large governmental plans) and investment managers are seeking a framework for collective engagement with the boards of issuers in the firearms industry. Engagement is one method of incorporating an ESG factor, such as gun safety, and may be preferred by some to divestment.

Signatories include: the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS); the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS); Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds; Florida State Board of Administration; Maine Public Employees Retirement System; Maryland State Retirement and Pension System; Nuveen, the asset manager of TIAA; OIP Investment Trust; Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund; Rockefeller Asset Management; San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System; State Street Global Advisors; and Wespath Investment Management.

What scrutiny of proxy process may mean for ESG

ESG expanding beyond equities

As ESG investing goes mainstream, the methodologies and contours of the ratings services come into focus

Divestment as an ESG approach

ESG fund sales and the Earth’s temperature trends appear correlated

Mutual funds that incorporate ESG factors into their investment process, or are marketed as ESG-specific, are showing positive sales growth. Is this related to the global temperature increase and continued climate change risks outlined in the recent IPCC report? Perhaps, but whether one or more of those risks is sufficiently material to investors is still being debated, though recent a recent survey shows that investors are starting to view ESG as directly affecting performance. Yet, in the 2018 Callan ESG survey, lack of (sufficient) data showing a link between investment performance and one or more ESG factors was cited as a top reason why institutional investors were not incorporating ESG factors or investing in ESG products. As more and more studies come out on the issue of materiality, we can, therefore, expect greater adoption. The Department of Labor placed particular emphasis on this point in its April guidance.

Climate change risk meets litigation risk

UN PRI warns signatories (particularly, investment managers) that they are prepared to thin the herd

While we have been alerting clients to this risk for the past several months, there is now some media pickup on a new initiative of PRI: to target (mostly) asset manager-signatories who have not undertaken steps to implement the PRI principles with the (ultimate) threat of delistment. Though the number of  signatories that are US managers and institutional investors has swelled (though stills noticeably trails that of Europe), there has been a concern of a “set it and forget it” mentality. Investment managers are encouraged to review PRI guidance on compliance (especially the guidance intended for asset owners) and reach out to them to facilitate achievement.

British retirement plans pressed to address ESG risks

An ESG proposal for you

I routinely speak on Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) issues. Time and again, I hear that there is widespread confusion over ESG terminology. This lack of clarity vexes many institutional investors, including fiduciaries. A number of great glossaries are out there (those of SSgA and Mercer immediately come to mind). But the US Department of Labor has its own understanding of ESG, as most recently reflected in Field Assistance Bulletin 2018-01. To better align the fiduciary duty nuance with industry practice, I am proposing definitions to certain key terms. As you will see, most of the definitions allow for a plug-and-play approach to ensure that a plan sponsor and investment manager, for instance, are on the same page when it comes to utilizing a particular ESG strategy. I certainly welcome any feedback.

ENGAGEMENT: Exercising one or more rights of a holder of interests in an ISSUER, such as proxy voting, introducing resolutions or participating in formal or informal meetings with the ISSUER board, in respect of an ESG FACTOR where (A) the exclusive purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk, (B) the primary purpose is for non-investment performance reasons, such as the promotion of an ESG policy, and a secondary purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk or (C) the exclusive purpose is for one or more non-investment performance reasons, such as the promotion of an ESG policy.

ENVIRONMENTAL: Issues or facts related to the natural environment, such as climate change, carbon emissions, waste management, recycling, energy, biodiversity, pollution, and conservation.

ESG (FACTOR): ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL and/or GOVERNANCE-related issues or facts.

ESG INVESTING: Employing NEGATIVE SCREENING, POSITIVE SCREENING, THEMATIC INVESTING, INTEGRATION, ENGAGEMENT, IMPACT INVESTING, SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE INVESTING, RESPONSIBLE INVESTING AND/OR SUSTAINABLE INVESTING.

EXCLUSIONARY SCREENING: See NEGATIVE SCREENING.

GOVERNANCE: Issues or facts related to the governance of an ISSUER, such as executive compensation, board structure, shareholder rights, bribery and corruption, and cybersecurity.

IMPACT INVESTING: Selecting investments in respect of an ESG FACTOR where the primary purpose is for non-investment performance reasons, such as the promotion of an ESG public policy, and a secondary purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk.

INTEGRATION: Incorporating ESG-related data and/or information in respect of an ESG FACTOR into the usual process when making an investment decision where such data or information is material to investment performance and where the exclusive purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk.

ISSUER: Any issuer, such as a corporation or country, whether in the public or private markets, that issue investible holdings, whether a security or not, in which an investment can be made.

NEGATIVE SCREENING: Avoiding the purchase of prospective investments, or DIVESTING from existing investments, on the basis of such investments not meeting a designated ESG standard, rating or requirement where (A) the exclusive purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk, (B) the primary purpose is for non-investment performance reasons, such as the promotion of an ESG public policy, and a secondary purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk or (C) the exclusive purpose is for one or more non-investment performance reasons, such as the promotion of an ESG public policy. Also called EXCLUSIONARY SCREENING.

POSITIVE SCREENING: Selecting investments on the basis of meeting a designated ESG standard, rating or requirement where (A) the exclusive purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk, (B) the primary purpose is for non-investment performance reasons, such as the promotion of an ESG public policy, and a secondary purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk or (C) the exclusive purpose is for one or more non-investment performance reasons, such as the promotion of an ESG public policy.

RESPONSIBLE INVESTING: Selecting investments where (A) the primary purpose is for non-investment performance reasons, namely the promotion of a GOVERNANCE ESG FACTOR, and a secondary purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk or (B) the exclusive purpose is for one or more non-investment performance reasons, namely the promotion of a GOVERNANCE ESG FACTOR.

SOCIAL: Issues or facts related to human relations of an ISSUER, such as employee relations, community relations, board diversity, human rights, demography, food security, poverty/inequality, child labor and health and safety.

SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE INVESTING: Selecting investments where (A) the primary purpose is for non-investment performance reasons, namely the promotion of a SOCIAL ESG FACTOR, and a secondary purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk or (B) the exclusive purpose is for one or more non-investment performance reasons, namely the promotion of a SOCIAL ESG FACTOR.

SUSTAINABLE INVESTING: Selecting investments where (A) the primary purpose is for non-investment performance reasons, namely the promotion of an ENVIRONMENTAL ESG FACTOR, and a secondary purpose is to enhance portfolio return or reduce portfolio risk or (B) the exclusive purpose is for one or more non-investment performance reasons, namely the promotion of an ENVIRONMENTAL ESG FACTOR.

THEMATIC INVESTING: Utilizing NEGATIVE SCREENING, POSITIVE SCREENING, INTEGRATION and/or ENGAGEMENT to invest in ISSUERS that share a common ESG purpose, industry or product.