Austrian pension fund VBV Vorsorgekasse beat off stiff competition from France and the Netherlands to win the ‘Best Investor in ESG’ (environmental, social and governance) award at the TBLI ESG Leaders Awards in Zurich.
The €1.8bn Austrian investor, which has been committed to the inclusion of ESG since it started in 2002, left the French public service supplementary pension scheme ERAFP and Dutch fiduciary manager PGGM behind to claim the prize.
Meanwhile, MSCI ESG Research, which has just been selected by the UK’s £40bn (€47.7bn) Universities Superannuation Scheme to provide ESG research, ratings and screening tools, scooped the award for ‘Best ESG Research House.’
The other two nominees were UK-based Maplecroft and Germany’s oekom research.
Zurich-based LGT Venture Philanthropy was named ‘Best Impact Investor.’
The shortlist for this category was completed by Bridges Ventures from the UK and Bamboo Finance from Switzerland.
Finally, Moringa Partnership – a private equity SICAV vehicle for sustainable agroforestry – won ‘Most Innovative Impact Investing Project’ ahead of Africa Integras and the Media Development Investment Fund.
Meanwhile, Doris Schönemann, founder of Switzerland-based Investor’s Dialogue, waded into the debate over pension funds’ divestment from fossil fuels.
During the ‘Carbon Bubble’ roundtable at the TBLI conference, she said: “As part of the liquidity challenge, [pension funds] also have to invest in carbon-heavy stocks. There is no way out because, at the moment, out of the 10 biggest stocks in the world, eight are energy related.
”But institutional investors are aware of this. The pension industry is aware of the carbon risks. What you can do as an institutional investor is to gradually shift to renewable energy, and underweight a little bit the carbon-heavy stocks.”
But she acknowledged that, because renewable energy companies tend to be small to medium-sized, liquidity constraints often prohibit pension funds from increasing allocations to them.
Schönemann said she was also concerned about the size of mainstream energy companies, which she deemed too big to fail.
“If you have an oligopoly, as we know from economics, they are prone to price fixes and prone to fraud – so there is a reputational risk in the big stock companies,” she said.
”In general, pension funds do not like reputational risks. What they can do as institutional investors is engagement. Engagement is one of the core instruments for institutional investors.
”Secondly, because they are also quite a heavyweight, they can intervene in politics and influence politicians to scale down the big ones.”