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Not all 'systems-level' ESG issues are created equal: TIIP

The Investment Integration Project (TIIP) has produced guidelines aimed at helping asset owners and managers sift through “systems-level” environmental, societal, and financial issues to decide which are relevant to their investment processes.

According to Steve Lydenberg, founder and CEO of TIIP and author of the paper explaining the guidelines, being able to identify which issues were significant enough to be integrated into investment processes “is crucial for institutional investors because issues with too narrow a focus may prove irrelevant, ineffective, or even potentially detrimental to their management of long-term risks and rewards”.

He argued that considerations about environmental sustainability or “the creation of a just and prosperous society” encompassed many issues, but “not all of these can – or should – rise to the level of ‘relevant consideration’” by institutional investors.

To determine which issues were worthy of their attention, institutional investors should consider four criteria, Lyndenberg suggested: consensus, relevance, effectiveness, and uncertainty. 

Issues that shared these characteristics were “those that will be of sufficient concern that long-term investors can reliably treat them as credible”.

 TTIP schema for defining systems-level issues

He said an issue could be worth considering if it had achieved a broad consensus as to its legitimacy and general importance, whether positive or negative.

To pass the “relevance” test, an issue should have “substantial potential to impact positively or negatively the long-term financial performance of not simply one portfolio or asset class, but portfolios across most investors and asset classes”, according to Lydenberg.

The “effectiveness” criterion would be met if institutional investors had the ability to influence the functioning of a given system.

Lastly, an issue could be deemed reasonable for consideration “if it involves difficult-to-assess uncertainties in the event of systems-level disruption”.

“The greater the potential for uncertainty due to systems-level disruptions, the stronger the case for consideration of these issues,” wrote Lyndenberg.

Examples of “systems-level issues” that could be deemed relevant for long-term institutional investors included: climate change, access to fresh water, poverty alleviation, access to healthcare, and stability and credibility of financial systems.

The paper can be found here

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  • TTIP schema for defining systems-level issues

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