GIIA response to FT article on ESG

GIIA has published the following response to Brad Cornell’s opinion piece in The Financial Times (16th July, 2020) titled ‘The ESG concept has been overhyped and oversold’

Infrastructure investors increasingly believe that key to their commercial success is a focus on the principles of ESG investing, to manage risk, improve the performance of assets under management, and enhance their corporate reputation. It is not just a question of doing the ‘right’ thing, although in today’s society that is pretty fundamental to maintain your ‘social licence’; investing through the ESG lens for the long term also makes good business sense. A way to look at ESG investing is through the 7 R’s model (credit to Wayne Visser, Professor of Integrated Value and Chair in Sustainable Transformation at Antwerp Management School), in the way that it lowers risk, improves reputation, fosters resilience, increases resource efficiency, anticipates regulation, supports recruitment and increases revenues.

Good ESG performance should not be seen as a one-off. Companies that improve their ESG performance go on a journey that results in continued improvement, adding value year after year. Making decisions without ESG information is also risky and, in some cases, could be seen to constitute a disregard for fiduciary duty.

Investors that have embedded ESG into their decision making should not be “called on to make judgments on social issues that they are not empowered to make, nor equipped to handle”. Effective executive decision making is actually informed and empowered by the extent to which an organisation is engaged with the societies within which it operates. Companies that have enhanced engagement with their stakeholders are likely to make better informed, well-rounded decisions.

Infrastructure investors are consciously choosing to invest for the long-term with ESG at the core of their investing strategies, because they know it is the way to build long term value for stakeholders and shareholders.

Infrastructure investors and advisors gather for GIIA Annual Seminar

The 3rd GIIA Annual Seminar, sponsored by Ashurst, KPMG and Marsh, was held on Tuesday 18th February in London and focused on the emerging opportunities and risks for infrastructure investors in the UK and Europe under the theme ‘The Fog is Lifting.’

Simon Jack, the BBC News Business Editor, launched the afternoon seminar with his keynote address which touched on broad themes including Brexit, net zero carbon targets and the need for big business to improve its image. Highlighting the lingering uncertainty over Brexit, he predicted that fog would not truly lift until the end of the UK transition period at the end of 2020 – and a potential ‘Australian style’ no-deal Brexit.

Following on, James Stewart, Global Head of Infrastructure Practice at KPMG, chaired a panel on the topic of ‘Opportunities for infrastructure investors post-Brexit.’ Joining him on the panel were Ed Clarke, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Infracapital, Steven Pugh, Principal, Hermes, and Simon Jack, Editor, BBC Business. In a wide ranging discussion, the panel considered how underlying public discontent with aspects of the infrastructure sector, the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit and more aggressive regulation in the utility sector had combined to create a less attractive investment environment in the UK in recent years. The panel agreed that whilst the threat of nationalisation had receded in the short term, there remained an important task for the sector to earn its social licence to operate.

Blair Chalmers, Director at Marsh & McLennan Advantage Insights, then took to the stage to launch a new interactive online tool for infrastructure investors, developed in association with GIIA, which outlines the complex landscape of interconnected global risks facing the infrastructure sector. He also outlined how shareholder expectations are changing in response to the climate challenge and how investors need to develop profit-sustainability synergies.

Kay Swinburne, former MEP and current Vice Chair of Financial Services at KPMG, moderated an all-female panel titled ‘Unpacking the EU Green Deal: What does it mean for infrastructure investors.’ The panel, comprised of Anna-Marie Slot, Global Sustainability Partner, Ashurst; Anna Davreux, Senior Vice President of Financial Services at FleishmanHillard, and Elena Giannakopoulou, Vice President of Strategy & Partnerships at John Laing Group, discussed the politics driving the EU Green Deal and how those policies could be influenced by investors through increased engagement and consultations.

The seminar concluded with a fireside chat between Jonathan Oxley, the CEO of UK Regulators Network, and Michael Burns, a Partner at Ashurst. In an intriguing discussion, Oxley discussed the importance of independent regulation, and the need to the rebuild trust between the regulators, investors and the customer. The discussion focussed on the need to make the UK an attractive place to invest but also the need for asset owners to meet society’s requirements on responsible stewardship.