Heat Is On For Companies To Strengthen ESG Practices

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing, once considered a trend for millennials and younger investors, is fast gaining traction as a mainstream requirement for global corporations as the climate crisis intensifies. 

The historic 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change saw 195 countries and the European Union signing up to a common goal of keeping global temperatures from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, thereby ensuring that carbon emissions and removals offset each other.

The World Meteorological Organization, the foremost authority on global climate, says in its latest report that the odds for the world hitting the target of a yearly average of 1.5 degrees Celsius are 50-50. There is also the likelihood that the five years from 2022 to 2026 will be the hottest on record.

The good news is that an increasing number of organizations, from financial institutions and energy companies to real estate developers and leading manufacturers, are rallying behind governments to reduce carbon footprints and strengthen ESG efforts to achieve net zero targets.

Investors, both retail and institutional, are also aligning their portfolios to ensure that their money goes to responsible companies with clear ESG metrics—ranging from carbon footprint reduction, energy efficiency improvements, employee health and safety to product sustainability, the integrity of the company’s board of directors, and diversity and inclusion efforts across the organization.

One of the financial institutions guiding clients toward ESG investing is LGT Group, the world’s largest family-owned private banking and asset management group based in the microstate of Liechtenstein, a well-known economic powerhouse in Europe. The bank—owned by the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, who, as an entrepreneurial family, has transferred wealth across 26 generations for almost 900 years—provides wealth management services to private banking clients with sustainability as a core focus.

Another banking group, HSBC Global Private Banking, has research figures that indicate more than 82% of investors in mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Kingdom rate sustainable, environmental and ethical issues as “quite” or “very important” to their investments. The bank is helping investors to future-proof their investment portfolios by choosing companies that are ESG-focused as they tend to deliver stronger earnings. With HSBC’s guidance, investors will also be able to invest while supporting the global movement towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

Product manufacturers, on the other hand, face different challenges as they need to utilize finite raw materials for production. But that is not stopping forward-thinking manufacturers from doing their bit to mitigate global warming.

Indonesia-based Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL Group), one of the largest pulp and paper producers in the world, has in place a one-for-one sustainability goal whereby every hectare of land used for commercial plantation is matched with an equal size of land set aside for conservation. At the company’s mills, 90% of the energy requirements come from renewable sources. APRIL Group also invests a dollar for every ton of fiber that is delivered to the mill, ensuring about US$100 million for conservation and restoration over the next 10 years. The company is leading by example to demonstrate that sustainability is not a zero-sum game and the pursuit of ESG goals need not be at the expense of profitability.

State-owned oil and gas companies are also rebranding themselves as “energy” companies as they transition towards carbon neutrality. One such company is Pertamina, Indonesia’s largest integrated energy company, whose biggest challenge today is energy security—or ensuring the uninterrupted supply of energy at an affordable price across an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands with a population of over 270 million. The company has rolled out several ESG programs and initiatives, such as developing an ecosystem that supports electric vehicles; introducing the use of biogas and waste materials in rural areas; recycling cooking oil; and promoting the conservation and restoration of the coastal and marine ecosystems. Pertamina is also building more solar power plants and harnessing renewable energy from hydro, geothermal and hydrogen as it journeys toward achieving net zero targets in line with the national agenda.

Meanwhile, in the real estate industry, Hong Kong-based Sino Group has signed on to support the United Nations Global Compact in 2020, as well as Business Ambition for 1.5°C and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures in 2021, becoming one of the first real estate developers in Asia to commit to the global calls-to-action to contribute to a more sustainable future. The Group, having established its presence in Hong Kong for more than 50 years, is also setting targets to achieve net zero carbon by 2050. Guided by its “Creating Better Lifescapes” credo, Sino Group has introduced a wide range of eco-friendly and green initiatives to bring communities closer to nature.

Malaysia’s top corporations are also faring well in sustainability performance while transitioning towards carbon neutrality.

Top Glove, the world’s largest maker of gloves, headquartered in Malaysia, has not only set clear sustainability goals to achieve by FY2025, but it is also holding its management accountable with 40% of the team’s remunerations tied to ESG performance. Today, Top Glove has more sustainable products on offer, such as biodegradable nitrile gloves that can degrade at least 10 times faster than regular gloves, while their factories are increasingly shifting toward greater reliance on solar energy.

For Malaysia’s energy company, PETRONAS, the journey towards sustainability is via the circular economy model: by eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials, and regenerating nature. Moving away gradually from activities that involve the consumption of finite resources, the global company, with a presence in more than 50 countries, is now providing renewable energy such as solar technology solutions and low-carbon fuels like natural gas as part of its energy offerings. In the past three years, PETRONAS has seen a threefold increase in demand for its clean energy and it will continue to scale up in this direction, possibly adding hydrogen as an alternative energy source.

Building Cutting Edge Wealth Management Solutions

Amid ongoing geopolitical tensions and market volatility, Asia’s wealth management sector continues to leverage on the region’s growing ranks of ultra-rich. Despite the headwinds brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic in the past two years, the Asia-Pacific will see the biggest growth in the number of ultra-high net worth (UHNW) and high net worth individuals between 2021 and 2026, according to the 2022 edition of Knight Frank’s The Wealth Report.

Over the next five years, Knight Frank forecasts that the global UHNW population will grow by a further 28%, led by Asia and Australasia (+33%), followed by North America (+28%) and Latin America (+26%).

The new generation of wealthy individuals will have different demands compared to their parents when it comes to managing money. For instance, many will likely communicate with their wealth managers through digital platforms, which will facilitate remote transactions seamlessly at their own convenience. At the same time, environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns will also be a key priority in the portfolios of the younger generation seeking to make the world a better place.

To this end, financial institutions such as HSBC and Citigroup are showing their ultra-rich clients unambiguous commitments to achieve their sustainability ambitions. Both banks are targeting to achieve net zero emissions by 2030 for their operations, while helping corporate clients across various industries to transition to a low carbon economy.

As part of a global group with corporate, investment and retail banking capabilities across an international network, HSBC’s Global Private Bank has a wealth of knowledge and expertise at its disposal to support its clients’ sustainability journey.

For Citi Private Bank (CPB) and its clients, committing to sustainable investments is a perpetual priority. In the coming years, CPB will bring their best thinking, research, analytics and fresh actionable investment ideas to help clients meet both their financial and sustainability objectives.

Besides sustainability, wealth and family governance planning has become more important due to the unprecedented intergenerational transfer of wealth expected to happen across Asia in the next few years. Institutions such as Liechtenstein-based LGT could help many of the region’s successful businesses prepare to pass on the reins to their second and third generation members amid an uncertain economic environment.

Founded over 100 years ago, LGT has established an enviable track record for helping clients with their family governance planning by putting in place governance frameworks built around common values, business goals and investment principles. The bank was founded by the Princely House of Liechtenstein, a 900-year-old business-owning family that has passed on their values and wealth across 26 generations.

As the wealth landscape evolves at a rapid pace, private banks that embrace innovation, sustainability and the evolving needs of their clients will continue to be at the leading edge of wealth management for decades to come.