Coller: Standardisation no panacea for ESG

Standards regimes can encourage box-ticking at the expense of more detailed analysis, according to the secondaries firm's ESG & sustainability head.

Private equity firms should be wary of standardised approaches to measuring environmental, social and governance criteria, Coller Capital‘s head of ESG & sustainability has said.

Speaking at a breakfast briefing in London last week, Adam Black said that while regimes such as the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment are a useful guide to which factors need to be considered, there is no substitute for detailed portfolio company analysis.

“On ESG due diligence, there’s a danger that you’ll tick a box and follow the standard rather than actually delivering,” Black said. “If you’ve got an ESG policy or are a PRI signatory, great. But I’m still going to ask you the same questions about your portfolio.”

GPs are lagging when it comes to understanding and mitigating the climate risk of their portfolios, Black added. According to the secondaries firm’s annual ESG report published in October, 41 percent of GPs have firm-level ESG policies related to climate change, compared with 91 percent for cybersecurity and 90 percent for financial crime.

Almost half of GPs say their portfolio companies are adopting climate-related ESG policies, compared with 84 percent for cybersecurity and 78 percent for financial crime.

Coller has been offsetting its own carbon footprint in recent years via forest regeneration, Black said. The firm is preparing to carry out scenario analysis on its underlying holdings to model the potential impacts of climate change. Black hopes this can provide a template for other fund managers to follow.

“When assessing sustainability businesses need to ask questions such as what will your product or service look like in 10 or 20 years’ time? Are you going to be able to sell the business in five years? Are there raw materials or processes that are particularly hazardous or likely to be banned or restricted? We need to see more focus on the life-cycle assessment of products and services, not just compliance at a firm level,” he said.