Sometimes the financial benefit of ESG initiatives is as clear as day.
Take, for example, a story from ICG’s portfolio, related on stage at IPEM in Paris this week. The firm worked with the company to finance a solar installation at its manufacturing plant. “It paid itself back in an extraordinary way, because we saw the price of energy go up 250 percent in the region in which they work,” said Elsa Palanza, global sustainability and ESG head at the firm. “The cost savings were extraordinary in the immediate, let alone the long, term.”
Other times the financial benefits are felt, but the evidence is anecdotal rather than hard numbers. A number of GPs this week explained that, when exiting businesses, they were confident that those with strong ESG stories are attracting a greater number of serious bidders than those without.
“More and more funds have strong ESG criteria in the way they look at acquisitions; so by definition that has an impact on your exits,” said William Kadouch-Chassaing, co-CEO of Eurazeo, during the same session, adding that similar factors are driving corporate acquirers and lending banks.
While there isn’t a body of empirical evidence to back it up, this follows an irresistible logic: businesses that are well run when it comes to governance, the planet and people command higher prices (quelle surprise!). It is true in public markets, according to analysis of 13,000 listed companies by Kroll, which found that companies with better ESG ratings outperformed those with lower ratings, in terms of their compound annual returns; I’d wager the same is observable in private markets.
We may not have to wait long for some hard data to come through. Progress around ESG data standardisation is being felt. “Two years ago, I didn’t have any metrics,” said Maaike van der Schoot, head of responsible investment at AlpInvest, a unit of Carlyle. “This year, I already have underlying portfolio company data from nearly 50 GPs.” Van der Schoot was referring specifically to the ESG Data Convergence Initiative, which has pulled more than 350 GPs and LPs together to report on a small set of ESG metrics.
At Private Equity International’s Responsible Investment Forum: San Francisco, it was clear from the discussions that champions of ESG still have a challenge in persuading internal stakeholders of its benefits, both in terms of risk mitigation and value creation. Doubtless the current political discourse around ESG is complicating the task.
As the ESG data set grows, spurred on by the EDCI and other initiatives, it will become possible to show correlation – or lack of – between an asset’s performance from an ESG standpoint and the financial returns it generates.
This will provide the industry with something of an ESG “moment of truth”, which surely cannot come fast enough.