Interest in ESG or “environment, social and corporate governance” issues has increased greatly in recent years.

It has been driven by a number of factors, including investors seeking to avoid reputational risk, which has been more prominent following news events such as the Hayne Royal Commission, and concerns around climate change and the impact that it may have on investments in the future.

A key aspect of the philosophy behind ESG investing is that as new technologies develop and society seeks to move to a more sustainable footing, companies that are focused on ESG and sustainability outcomes will see the benefit of tailwinds and less in the way of headwinds over time. These companies will also be well positioned to take advantage of business opportunities as more and more customers seek to do business in this way and find it easier to engage and retain staff.

The evolution of ESG investing

There are a variety of funds available that focus on “ESG” investing, which is now often referred to as responsible investing or ethical investing.

Responsible Investing funds have evolved to take a number of forms. Some funds focus on “negative screening”, which involves excluding from an investment universe companies involved in industries such as the production or sale of fossil fuels, alcohol, tobacco or weapons. Another evolution has been funds that seek to invest in companies that are making positive contributions – often in industries such as renewable energy, education, healthcare and the circular economy. Perennial’s Smaller Companies Sustainable Future Trust fits into this category, with a focus on investing in companies that are making a positive contribution to a sustainable future.

Listed companies and their views on ESG and sustainability issues

A key aspect of responsible investing is engaging with companies to both find out what they are currently doing from an ESG and sustainability perspective and what they are planning to improve going forward.

To learn more about what Australian and New Zealand companies have been doing from an ESG and sustainability point of view, Perennial recently conducted an anonymous survey that was sent to 250 Australian companies. We received responses from companies in a range of industries.

The insights that we gained from the survey included:

  • Over 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that engagement with investors on ESG and sustainability issues produces positive outcomes.
  • The focus of respondents on ESG and sustainability issues was driven by internal forces, with directors and employees being the key stakeholders encouraging the adoption of ESG and sustainability practices.
  • Key areas of focus to improve sustainability and ESG practices in the next 12-18 months were diversity (81% of respondents) and safety (59% of respondents). Other focus areas included governance and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Over 90% of respondents indicated that governance (94%) and diversity (93%) were important commercially for their business.

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