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Corporate structure is neither the problem nor the solution to increasing sustainability

Some people say the solution to the ESG challenge is to embed social-purpose statements into corporate charters, and that this will oblige companies to consider all stakeholders and to measure and report on their social effect. This sounds good – but as we engage business in trying to meet the sustainability challenge, is corporate structure the right place to focus?

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Incorporating ESG Considerations into Engagement Practices

Most of the discussion around environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing is about screening out companies that don’t fit specific ESG criteria. But investors who take this approach are missing an opportunity to drive change by engaging directly with companies and pushing for improved sustainability practices. The High Meadows Institute recently published a report that explores the different ways investors can engage with companies and provide evidence that shareholder engagement really works — in terms of both profit and ethics. For the purpose of this report, we examined both private and public engagement practices. Private engagement is the route used most often…

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What will it take to move ESG from the margins to the mainstream in capital markets?

Judging from the $59 trillion in assets under management now committed to the UN Principle for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) and rapid growth of socially responsible investment funds, it would be easy to conclude we are well on the way to integrating sustainability or ESG into mainstream capital markets. A deeper look suggests a different story. Over the past year, the High Meadows Institute has been conducting research to understand the reality of how the mainstream institutions that shape capital markets approach sustainability. We have published a report on our findings available here. Our research shows that while many of the leading…

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Defining Sustainability

How often have we heard the words “what do you mean by sustainability?” Perhaps it avoids definition because sustainability applies to so many facets of our lives, to so many business or organizational strategies, to so many approaches we might take to moving to desirable outcomes. Does the notion of sustainability have a time period attached to it? One that says if you can keep something up for a certain amount of time you have crossed the threshold of sustainability?  In the world of environmental policy, sustainability has come to mean that if an organization is not meeting certain environmental…

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Miles to go Before We Sleep

The UNPRI conference in Montreal last week demonstrated that while progress is being made, there is still a long way to go before sustainability will be fully embraced by mainstream investors. Among the key challenges identified during the conference were: Incentives— PRI’s Managing Director Fiona Reynolds said that only 6% of asset owners committed to the UNPRI report that their performance management and compensation systems for senior executives include metrics that recognize and reward sustainability. As she noted, “What gets measured gets managed. If responsible investment is to become truly mainstream, it must start at the very top of every…

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Can Sustainability Help Companies Outperform?

In recent years, the perception that companies that integrate sustainability in their corporate strategy and operations will do so at the cost of financial performance has finally been put to rest.  As a recent study by mainstream investment advisory firm RBC Asset Managers concludes, investors “can pursue a program of socially responsible investing with the expectation that investment returns will be similar to traditional investment options.” The real challenge in attracting mainstream investor interest in sustainability, however, is not to simply prove that sustainability is not a drag on financial performance, but rather that it enables companies to financially outperform…

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