T. Alexander Puutio Contributor
T. Alexander Puutio is an adjunct professor at NYU Stern and he currently dedicates his research on the interplay between sustainability, technology and organizational management. All views expressed are his own.
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One of the main criticisms leveled against ESG investing is that the movement is all talk, no action. The main reason for this is that there simply aren’t enough entrepreneurs providing adequately ESG-aligned investing opportunities. In fact, a third of VCs face difficulties with identifying suitable ESG investment opportunities, even though 97% of them find it important in making investment decisions, driven by the lack of adequate ESG disclosures and excessive costs for gathering and analyzing ESG information.
At the same time, ESG-focused assets under management are projected to increase from $18.4 trillion to $33.9 trillion in the coming years. Whether these figures become reality is increasingly up to entrepreneurs who need to get serious about delivering high-quality ESG data, fast.
There simply aren’t enough entrepreneurs providing adequately ESG-aligned investing opportunities.
Choose the right disclosure framework
Investors have lower levels of confidence in companies that do not collect investment-grade data (shorthand for data that meets high standards of timeliness, accuracy, completeness and auditability), and the majority of investors see unstandardized and poor quality data as their biggest barrier.
Regardless of your market and industry, the best way to get started with delivering investors with high-quality data is to embrace preexisting reporting and disclosure frameworks as early on as possible. There are many frameworks to choose from, including Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), CDP (originally known as the Carbon Disclosure Project) and United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). Although founders may need to carefully consider which framework to prioritize in the beginning, most of the frameworks are complementary in nature and mature firms tend to lean on several of them in their reporting.
For example, the GRI framework examines a company’s influence on the broader economy, environment and society to identify material concerns, while SASB is more tuned to serve the interests of investors who are interested in ESG data that could significantly affect the financial performance of firms in their portfolio. In short, GRI is an ‘inside-out’ framework that examines the company’s impact on the world, while SASB is an ‘outside-in’ framework that looks at the effects of the climate on the company and the risks it faces.
What ends up working best for any given company at any particular time will be down to a number of unique factors, and effective prioritization is key.
When eyeing an IPO, make aligning with TCFD your first priority
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) introduced a proposed set of rules concerning mandatory climate disclosures last year. Under the proposed rules, firms who file with the SEC need to disclose a number of data points, including whether climate-related events are likely to push the needle on any of the accounts in its financial statements and what governance structures are in place to mitigate against climate risks. The disclosures envisioned in SEC’s proposal are largely in line with those of the TCFD and Greenhouse Gas Protocol, and if you are gearing up for an IPO, you would do well by ensuring that your ESG data is aligned with these frameworks as a matter of priority.