ESG Investing: How to Assess & Navigate Biodiversity Risk
Biodiversity loss can cause significant and financially material risks to portfolios. Julie Moret, head of sustainable investing and stewardship, explains why investors need to address these risks and how, as part of their environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing efforts.
What Is Biodiversity and Why Is It Relevant to Investors?
The diversity of all organisms and their ecosystems represents biodiversity, which nature needs to produce the that support the global economy. The estimated that more than half the global economy depends on nature and identified biodiversity loss as one of the top three risks on a global scale over the next decade. Investors no longer can ignore how biodiversity impacts their portfolios.
How Is the Investment Industry Addressing This Challenge?
In December 2022, Montreal will host the second half of the Convention on Biological Diversity with a goal to “bend the curve” of biodiversity loss by 2030. As the Paris Agreement in 2015 brought the world to consensus on climate change, expectations are that this meeting will do the same for biodiversity.
This event may spur momentum for investment efforts to protect biodiversity through three key investor initiatives. The first initiative is the Finance for Biodiversity pledge, which includes 103 investment firms and banks with more than $14 trillion in assets committed to protect and restore biodiversity through their activities and investments. The second is Nature Action 100+, a collaborative initiative where investors collectively engage with companies and governments to mitigate biodiversity loss, aligned with the goals set out by the Finance for Biodiversity pledge. The third is the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures, which aims to offer tools to help investors integrate nature-related risks into their decisions.
How Can Investors Assess Companies on Biodiversity Risk?
As investors gain more access to biodiversity data with increasing nature-related disclosures by companies, investors can use this data to construct their portfolios and engage with companies with biodiversity impact in mind. They can evaluate biodiversity risks from a sector-specific perspective, including palm oil, mining and animal agriculture industries that have a high impact on ecosystems. Investors can also develop a holistic approach to evaluating a company’s impact on biodiversity through its water use, land use, and raw material sourcing along with its management of packaging material, waste and electronic waste.
To understand which products and business models are unsustainable from an environmental perspective, investors can rely on sector-specific financial such as the SASB codified standards, which are also part of our proprietary . Materiality frameworks may help investors apply screens to remove the worst-performing companies in terms of their impact on biodiversity and the environment. For example, investors could screen out companies with water-intensive production processes in areas of water stress or identify these as targets for engagement.
What Are the Practical Ways to Integrate Biodiversity into the Investment Process?
and climate change are the “twin crises” of the environment, with biodiversity loss reducing nature’s ability to mitigate climate change and global warming exacerbating biodiversity loss. Investors increasingly need to understand the interconnected environment to encourage progress on the transition to sustainable economies and businesses.
To navigate the “twin crises” of the environment in one of our investment strategies, we rely on a combination of responsible investment screens, alignment to the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and nature-aware tilts and screens. The strategy screens out companies linked to ecosystem loss and water pollution. It also increases exposure to companies that minimize natural capital loss and contribute to environmental improvement, including:
- Climate change mitigation and adaptation.
- Sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources.
- Protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems.
How Else Can Investors Support Biodiversity
We believe engaging with companies is essential. At NTAM, preserving biodiversity is one of our key stewardship priorities. We focus on limiting environmental damage and deforestation and promoting sound practices in water management.
One example is animal agriculture. This sector contributes to climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss, according to Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR). In 2021, we continued to participate in FAIRR’s collaborative engagement on sustainable proteins, which is the world’s first and largest investor engagement effort focused on encouraging global food companies to transition to more sustainable food products. As a result, all the companies targeted by the campaign are investing in the development of plant-based protein products and nearly 30% of them plan to increase sales of alternatives to meat and dairy.
A framework that aids the decision of whether sustainability or environmental, social or governance information is financially material, meaning that the information is material to how an organization creates value.
Renewable energy is energy produced from sources such as the sun and wind that are naturally replenished. In contrast, non-renewable energy comes from finite sources, including fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
A not-for-profit foundation established in 1971 that engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders to shape global, regional and industry agendas.
The Northern Trust ESG Vector Score is a measurement that assesses publicly traded companies in the context of financially relevant environmental, social and governance (ESG) related criteria that could impact their operating performance.
Evaluating biodiversity loss on a sector level
Investors can evaluate biodiversity risks from a sector-specific perspective, including palm oil, mining and animal agriculture industries that have a high impact on ecosystems. They can also develop a holistic approach to evaluating a company’s impact on biodiversity through its water use, land use, and raw material sourcing along with its management of packaging material, waste and electronic waste.
Interested in learning more about our expertise and how we can help?
About Sustainable Investing
At Northern Trust Asset Management (NTAM), we define Sustainable Investing as encompassing all of NTAM’s investment strategies and accounts that utilize values based and norms based screens, best-in-class and Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) integration, or thematic investing that may focus on a specific ESG issue such as climate risk. NTAM’s Sustainable Investing includes portfolios designed by NTAM as well as those portfolios managed to client-defined methodologies or screens. As the data, analytical models and aforementioned portfolio construction tools available in the marketplace have evolved over time, so too has NTAM. NTAM’s Sustainable Investing encompasses strategies and client assets managed in accordance with client specified responsible investing terms (historically referred to as Socially Responsible), as well as portfolios that leverage contemporary approaches and datasets, including ESG analytics and ESG thematic investing.
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