This simple schematic analysis contains an important implication: every company can create social value for stakeholders. Signatories of the Business Roundtable statement, for example, include companies that sell coal, weapons and snack foods—industries that investors who are focused on social issues tend to avoid. While companies like these can’t do much to improve the social impact of their products, they can improve their own behavior.
Creating Sustainable Metrics
For investors, this framework is the first step toward building sustainable portfolios. For example, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) can be used to measure the environmental and social impact of a company’s products. By mapping a company’s product offerings to the UN SDGs, we can measure the percentage of its revenues that are derived from products aligned or misaligned with UN SDG outcomes. Companies can then be plotted based on their net revenue exposure to the UN SDGs.
By focusing on companies that deliver profitable solutions to key social challenges such as health and wellness, clean energy, and gender equality, we believe investors can create portfolios with attractive growth, profitability and quality characteristics.
Corporate behavior can also be measured in several ways. Our security selection processes use proprietary environmental, social and governance (ESG) measurements. Yet we can also apply MSCI ESG ratings to create a simple proxy that tracks a company’s ESG behavior relative to its peers as well as changes in its behavior over time. For investors seeking to align their portfolio investments with highly sustainable companies, this can be an effective way to see if the portfolio meets their requirements.
The Alpha Connection
Even after identifying companies with sustainable products and behavior, there are many ways to build equity and fixed-income portfolios that balance risk, reward and responsibility. Different types of portfolios seek to deliver alpha in different ways, depending on their objectives. For example, portfolios that invest in certain sustainable products may benefit from strong long-term growth potential that is underappreciated by the market. Investment in companies with improving business behavior may benefit from reduced costs, higher profitability and lower regulatory risk.
Because different strategies balance these objectives differently, the same measurement metrics will not apply equally to all portfolios. But when we understand how a company intends to create social value (is the firm moving to the right, upward or both?), we can begin to think about appropriate metrics to track. Better metrics can also help guide more productive engagement efforts with management teams to help keep companies on track in the quest for social value creation.
CEOs have recognized that the role of the modern corporation has evolved. Now it’s time for investors to sharpen their game and develop more effective methods to measure the execution of an ambitious agenda to reshape the way companies operate in the 21st century.