An investigation of the 25 largest European insurance companies (in terms of assets) that were eligible for inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices in 2021 yielded insights into how the insurance industry is integrating ESG issues into strategy. As the largest institutional investor in Europe, with 10 trillion euros invested in bonds, equity, and other investments, this industry, whose main experience, and business specialty centers on assessing risk, provides a strong case study for how corporates strive to advance on ESG topics. This article highlights the key learnings from the recent benchmark study conducted by Finch & Beak.
As investors increasingly integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria in their decision making processes, companies need to cater to this information need. Developing and transmitting a clear ESG Equity Story is key in this: communicating about the firm’s ESG approach and performance in a coherent and transparent manner toward investor audiences. Finch & Beak has assembled a pilot benchmark as a probe for the current status quo, assessing 21 companies’ sustainability programs (‘Be Good’) and their ESG Equity Stories (‘Tell It’). A striking finding is that companies appear to engage in ESG ‘greywashing’ (antonym of greenwashing), by underleveraging their ESG performance in the communication towards investor audiences.
The COVID-19 outbreak shows that a topic that seems to be immaterial a few months ago, can be material today. The increasing transparency, growing stakeholder influence and visible changes of our planet increase the pace in which ESG topics become material. Companies should avoid being surprised by the impact of future ESG factors and identify which topics become material for their business in the future. In this article, we illustrate the importance of a forward-looking approach towards materiality.
As part of their round-the-world sailing trip in search of sustainable solutions, the Sailors for Sustainability have moored their boat in Portugal's Algarve region. It's not only popular among tourists, but also where the cork oak tree thrives. Their omnipresence has turned the country into the number one cork producer: it accounts for more than 52 percent of the global annual production of 350,000 tons of cork per year.
More than ever, companies are asked by stakeholders to share their performance on a wide array of ESG-related topics. Whereas companies could previously get away with a story-telling approach, today data-driven evidence is needed to fulfill stakeholders’ expectations in the best possible way. As the field of ESG information is immensely broad, ranging from detailed information on governance practices, to energy reduction activities, and health and safety initiatives, companies are advised to focus on what matters most to their type of business and organizational culture.
Temperatures keep rising at an alarming pace. According to the UN weather agency, CO2 levels are at their highest in the last 650,000 years, and so are the average temperatures, with the world’s nine warmest years all having occurred since 2005. With the battle for sustainability heating up, banks such as ING and DBS are rolling out sustainability-linked loans and investors are increasingly factoring in sustainability performance in their investment decisions. As BlackRock, the globes biggest investment firm concludes: “There can be little downside to gradually incorporating climate factors into the investment process — and even potential upside”.
European temperatures in the past summer months were not as exceptional as some might think. According to the UN weather agency, CO2 levels are at their highest in the last 650,000 years, and so are the average temperatures, with the world’s nine warmest years all having occurred since 2005, and the five warmest since 2010. With the battle for sustainability heating up, companies and executives need to develop a new sense of urgency, moving it from the realm of compliance to that of a key driver of performance and innovation, which requires embedding it deeply into their core strategies.
Increasingly sustainability frontrunners are leveraging their position as leaders by making deals with their banks. Philips, Barry Callebaut, and Generali are recent examples of companies that have successfully engaged with their capital providers to develop facilities with innovative sustainable and green features. By linking interest costs to ESG performance such as targets on green investments or progress made on sustainability initiatives, a strong business case for sustainability is created. Analyzing the different ESG benchmarks is a useful first step to further understanding ESG performance, as well as monitoring progress, and guiding decision-making to further accelerate sustainability performance.
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Last year, research among WBCSD member companies on sustainability and risk disclosures revealed that only 29% of material topics as published in the sustainability report were also included in the company’s legal disclosure of risks. Amazingly enough, for 35% of member companies this disclosure dropped to zero(!) demonstrating a feeble link between sustainability reporting and Enterprise Risk Management. With the launch of a public consultation on fiduciary duties and sustainability by the European Commission in November 2017, the increase of the interest in this topic is likely to further expand.