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ESG Data is Growing Up

by Sonny Masero 17-06-2021

We are entering a new era of ESG data. Historic market failures regarding our negative environmental and social impacts, and the resulting climate change, nature loss and social inequality, are starting to be corrected with structural changes to the market.

In the financial sector, we are seeing both dynamic and double materiality becoming an integral part of decision making. The WEF introduced the concept of dynamic materiality in 2020, where an ESG topic which is financial immaterial today can become material tomorrow. That is coupled with double materiality, which considers both the inside-out view of ESG, that is what impact does an asset have on the environment and society, as well as the outside-in view of what impact environmental, social and governance issues have on the asset.

Climate change and carbon pricing is a good example. In terms of dynamic materiality, an increasing number of companies are adopting an evolutionary internal carbon price to drive low carbon investment in real assets and to mitigate the risks of cost increases as climate change externalities are corrected in the economy – this price will increase over time making financial materiality more likely across all sectors. There is an obvious point of connection here with double materiality, which is that real assets create emissions and will inevitably face more regulations over time – see the PRI Inevitable Policy Response Forecast Report. As our climate changes we will see an increase in severity and/or frequency of extreme weather events which can damage and disrupt real assets. All of these aspects of potential materiality have to be considered in financial appraisals and investment-grade ESG data can provide insight on trends and relative performance of assets.

Investment and Asset Managers are using ESG data from assets to make investment decisions: choosing the right assets to acquire and dispose of; deciding how to finance improvements to those assets; and investment & credit risk management processes are now incorporating ESG data. 

Those processes and decisions are becoming more transparent to the providers of capital, so the quality of ESG data has to become investment grade.

The expectations from investors, and their asset managers, of ESG data is closing the gap with the financial and commercial data captured in asset management software, but the budgets invested in ESG data management software and processes is vastly different. ESG data is now more valuable than it has ever been before and financial regulations are going to increase that value. 

The EU Action Plan for Sustainable Finance, and similar changes to UK financial regulations, means that the duties of asset managers & lenders and the decision they take about ESG risks and opportunities are no longer optional.

Without investment-grade data about ESG performance and sustainability actions then it is not possible to understand the full impact on asset value. ESG risk, in particular climate risk, is a financial risk and this data should be incorporated into every financial decision. 

That wasn’t the case last year, so this change is happening quickly. 

ESG data was being used in-house to monitor performance, as it has been for the last decade or so. It was used for annual reporting and for voluntary disclosure. There was a small minority of investors asking about ESG at the start of 2020, but throughout the pandemic this has changed quickly. Last year, there was not a fiduciary duty to be discharged based on ESG data. Nor staff incentive programmes based on ESG measurements. That has all changed as the market has grown up to take a more sophisticated view of how our economy relies on natural and social capital, not just financial and manufactured capital. The materiality of ESG has been recognised across the financial sector.

The financial markets are undergoing a structural change. Sustainable finance, and particularly climate-related finance, is now a global priority. This has led to changing investor requirements and regulatory changes for banks, institutions and fund managers, such as SFDR, MiFID ii and mandatory TCFD reporting are all combining to bring about structural change. We now have to consider dynamic and double materiality and make financial decisions accordingly.

It is slowly, but surely cascading down to real assets: real estate, infrastructure and land.

For those experts in sustainable real estate and infrastructure, it is clear that assets are likely to be mispriced and that the transparency provided by these regulatory requirements for ESG data will make that clear. Without ESG data on performance and actions, it is not possible to assess the cost of transition. For real assets, there is not a trading solution to disperse all of these liabilities by disposing of them to others. There is a need to retain, rethink, invest and dispose based on early knowledge of ESG risks. The later this happens the most likely it is that asset owners will see value erosion through reduced income, defaults, decreasing exit values and cap rate compression.

ESG transparency will also influence tenants and the users of real assets. There is a reputational risk of not taking sustainability performance seriously enough. Now that people have more choice about where they work and live, this risk could be more material to income and asset value than ever before.

At EVORA Global, with our SIERA and SIERA+ software, we are making these risks more visible and manageable. This is enabling our clients to make proactive decisions about their assets and funds, and to effectively engage with investors and other stakeholders.

It is time to approach ESG data in a new way. The historic policies, processes and procedures may no longer be fit for purpose. Most of them are only backwards-looking and there is now mandatory requirements to be forward-looking, which has its risks and uncertainties. In choosing an ESG data management platform ensure that it is future-proof, aware of this rapidly changing financial landscape.

If you would like to get in touch with the SIERA team, you can do so by emailing hello@siera.global

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