More than a nice-to-have, buy-side considers its actions

May 20, 2009

More than a “nice to have,” investor sentiment is running heavily on the side of environment, social and governance (ESG) factors, according to the latest Thomson Reuters Perception Snapshot.

Feedback from 25 global buy-side investors found that 84 percent evaluate ESG criteria to some degree when making an investment decision.

The remaining 16 percent say ESG issues are not considered until a company’s ability to generate high returns is hindered by these factors.

Some of the selected comments:

“ESG only plays a role to the extent that it is an overhang on the stock. There is no moral component to investing. We are value neutral when it comes to our investment decisions, but we are not value neutral in our lives. We have a fiduciary duty to our clients, to the people who give us money to manage to maximize returns, which means that we can not be limited by our own personal morality. If I see a cigarette company that looks interesting I may invest in it even though I might not like it
personally.” – U.S. Hedge Fund Investor

“I am convinced that companies that follow the philosophy of social and economic responsibility are performing better in the long-term than those that do not.” – European Core Growth Investor

The report dovetails with Tuesday’s push by U.S. President Barack Obama to push for tougher industrial standards aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama ordered the U.S. auto industry, where the hand of government is firmly in control (GM and Chrysler, but not Ford) to make more fuel-efficient cars to cut emissions and increase gas mileage.

The House of Representatives started its debate on the 946-page Democratic bill on Tuesday. Republicans are arguing the legislation would burden the economy with higher energy costs.

Does that matter, when scientists reported on Tuesday that global warming’s effects this century could be twice as extreme as estimated just six years ago?

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists estimate the Earth’s median surface temperature could rise 9.3 degrees F (5.2 degrees C) by 2100. That’s up from the 4.3 degrees F (2.4 degrees C) estimate in 2003.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said seas would rise by between 18 and 59 cms (7-24 inches) this century. But it pointed to big uncertainties about ice sheets in Greenland or Antarctica — one IPCC estimate was that this ice could add up to 20 cms to sea level rise.

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