Sustainable investing is one of the most rapidly growing parts of the market, increasing from $23trn in 2016 to $31trn last year. And impact investing is one of the most rapidly growing parts of sustainable finance, doubling each of the past two years to $502 billion in assets under management according to the Global Impact Investing Network.
As investor demand drives growing sustainable and impact investing assets under management, countless efforts are underway to prevent “green washing” and “impact washing” or the use of sustainable and impact positioning to raise capital without any environmental or social benefit. A fledgling—but important—one is sustainability and impact assurance, which enables informed scrutiny by third parties and independent verification. This article highlights three trailblazers: Vornado Realty, Etsy Corporation, and LeapFrog Investments.
Sustainable investing. There are over 600 environmental, social, and governance (ESG) frameworks globally. Two of the most widely accepted among investors are the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) industry-specific standards, developed based on extensive feedback from companies, investors, and other market participants as part of a transparent, publicly-documented process and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sustainability reporting framework. SASB’s Investor Advisory Group consists of investors with $34 trillion in AUM who are committed to improving the quality and comparability of sustainability-related disclosure to investors. Similarly, GRI reports are produced in 100 countries and recommended by regulators as a way to meet sustainability reporting requirements in Taiwan and Denmark.
Impact investing. Impact investing is the pointy end of the spear in sustainable finance, since it requires that an investor intentionally generate positive social outcomes in addition to financial returns. In April, after collaborating with leading asset managers, asset owners, and development banks for over a year, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) launched the Operating Principles for Impact Management, which offers investors clarity and consistency on what constitutes impact investing. The Operating Principles for Impact Management launched with 60 investors with an aggregate $350 billion in impact assets under management—70% of total global impact AUM—committing to manage their current and future impact investments according to the Operating Principles for Impact Management. This commitment entails integrating impact considerations across the investment lifecycle: strategy; origination and structuring; portfolio management and exit. Importantly, this commitment also includes annual disclosure and independent verification on how signatories implement the principles.