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.