Profit or principle? reducing the blur
13 June 2010 -

SNS Reaal Group’s CFO Mr. Ference Lamp recently announced that the asset management arm of this Dutch financial institution would be pulling out of Greek government bonds, citing the ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) issues as a reason for this decision of choosing principle over profit. SNS Reaal says it currently has EUR 150 million in Greek bonds, down from EUR 260 million last year, when the Group tightened its investment policy.

The ESG criteria were established in the mid 2000s under the auspices of the United Nations as part of the Principles for Responsible Investment. Simply put, they are guidelines for investing using non-financial criteria. They cover environmental, ethical, social and governance issues.

In order to create ESG ratings, fund managers make use of all sources of available information, including CSR reports, annual reports, industry publications, broker and independent research, and informal conversations with corporate stakeholders.

The application of ESG criteria will become more commonplace in the future as social investing takes a foothold globally. Examples of managers who embrace ESG issues can be found in abundance among funds that have a particular thematic focus, such as an environmental, social, or general sustainability focus, where the investment philosophy of the fund revolves around ESG issues. Where there is no thematic fund involved, however, managers appear to be applying ESG factors to investments subjectively.

In fact, according to the UN official authority on this topic, the 2008 Principle for Responsible Investment (PRI) Report on Progress, only 39% of investment managers that are signatories to the Principles for Responsible Investment have actually incorporated ESG issues into their decision-making process for developed market equities.

This brings us to the question of how far can an asset manager go in applying the ESG factors to their investment? Does principle rule in one case and profit in another? Can the PRI be unswervingly applied throughout your investments?

We will be addressing this and similar issues in our regular CSR blogs. Stay tuned!

- Vicky Valanos, Corporate Responsibility Strategist, Media Wise. vicky@mediawise.eu