Keeping up with what is going on in the ESG/Sustainability arena is a continuous challenge. One tool that helps us is a Google Alert that creates a digest of news and articles based on the keywords “ESG” and “sustainability.” Every day we get a listing of items that meet our search criteria. It’s quite useful—although we admit we don’t have time to read them all.
As we scan the stories in these Google Alerts, it’s a reminder that many of us have a U.S. or Europe-centric view of developments in the ESG space. In other words, we have a bad habit of thinking that what is going on in the sustainability arena in the U.S. and/or Europe (the good, the bad, and the ugly) represents or dominates ESG-related news in other countries.
In case you’re wondering where we’re headed with this, here’s the bottom line: that limited perspective about the role of E, S, and G in the business world is far too limited. By examining just a few recent Google Alerts, we see a range of items about sustainability-related news around in the world. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve seen recently.
An article from GoAuto (headquartered south of Melbourne, not far from Tasmania) says that customer preference and a growing recognition of environmental issues among Australian corporations is motivating transportation and logistics companies down under to embrace zero-emissions vehicles for last-mile deliveries. CarBon, a specialist EV leasing, rental, and subscription company, recently worked with one of the country’s biggest transport and logistic businesses, Kings Group, to boost the number of EV vehicles it leases, making it one of the country’s biggest zero-emission delivery fleets.
As the article states, in addition to helping businesses meet ESG targets, EVs can also improve brand equity. Importantly, they are “projected to reach total cost of ownership parity across multiple use cases in the next decade.” Although the EV delivery vehicles are still clearly more expensive than gasoline-powered equivalents, the article notes that along with the benefits of customer relations generated by using zero-emission transport, companies cut their fuel bill, as electricity is still one-third of the price of diesel.
The website Modern Diplomacy reports that advances in the digital economy bring carbon emissions, and that Southeast Asian countries are expected to produce roughly 20MT of emissions by 2030 due to the “digital transformation.” The article reports that the value of Indonesia’s digital economy in 2022 was about $77 billion and could jump to $120 billion by 2025, making the country a leader in Southeast Asia’s digital economy.
Raising capital is essential to this growth. Indonesia uses green and sustainability bonds and has an ESG-index for its stock market. This support from the government encourages investors in the country to seek out companies that uphold ESG principles. For example, Indonesian startup Aruna, a sustainable fisheries e-commerce business, received funding from East Ventures, the first venture capital firm in Indonesia to become a UN PRI signatory. Aruna is working with the Global Entrepreneurship Lab Program at the MIT Sloan School of Management to involve MBA students in conducting a comparative analysis of implementing ESG in the fishery industry.
Saudi Arabia/Gulf Cooperation Council:
The region best known for oil reserves may seem an unlikely place to find support for ESG, but countries in the Middle East are seeking to diversify their economies because they know that the shift away from fossil fuels is unstoppable. Last year, PwC reported that 60 percent of companies in the region have an ESG strategy in place, and PwC’s senior partner in Saudi Arabia recently stated that pursuing ESG should play a major role in transforming the economies of Gulf Cooperation Council nations.
Riyadh Al Najjar, Senior Partner at PwC, referred to “the strategic role the region plays in the energy transition,” and observed that by promoting circular economies, developing sustainable tourism, and expanding social inclusion and good governance, ESG can drive transformation and create opportunities. If these comments do not fit the stereotype of what business leaders in the Middle East are thinking about, it’s time to re-examine those stereotypes. Companies in the Middle East know that achieving ESG targets can help them to future-proof their businesses and achieve long-term profitability.
The Indian government has made major investments aimed at increasing the country’s renewable energy sources to reduce reliance on expensive fossil fuels and is taking steps to protect forests from deforestation and degradation. To help achieve its objectives in this arena, the government has established several funds and incentives to help businesses transition to green technologies and become more sustainable.
On a related note, India is not a newcomer to sustainability reporting. In 2011, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs released National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Businessesthat were mandated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) for the top 100 listed companies. In 2021, new guidelines known as the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report were introduced with the goal of establishing links between financial results and a company’s ESG performance. SEBI will now mandate these disclosures for the top 1,000 listed Indian entities.
The Divisional Head of Capital Markets at Nigerian Exchange Limited, Jude Chiemeka, recently highlighted the importance of ESG compliance and the democratization of data in attracting investments and enhancing stock liquidity in Nigeria’s capital market. Chiemeka shared these insights during a panel session titled “ESG and Sustainable Finance; The Future of Investments,” which was jointly organized by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Centre for Sustainability in Lagos. He stressed the significant correlation between transparency in ESG disclosures and corporate performance, noting that “companies on the Exchange that demonstrate strong ESG compliance often gain access to more capital, attract a broader investor base, and can even raise capital from foreign markets.”
The website “Latin Lawyer” recently highlighted how a greater focus on the Social Pillar of ESG in Latin America is affecting businesses in the region. One company, Olam International, is facing an enforcement action by Brazilian prosecutors for allegedly failing to address child and slave labor abuses in its supply chain. In another case, the corporate parent of the company that owns the Fundão dam in Brazil that collapsed in 2015, is facing legal action in the United Kingdom by over 200,000 individuals, businesses, and municipal governments that were affected by the disaster. Clearly, violating labor standards and human rights could have legal consequences for local companies and multinationals operating in the region.
Governments of countries across Latin America differ greatly in terms of the extent to which they are implementing sustainability-related regulations. Apart from government actions, private companies and non-government bodies have created voluntary initiatives to support the Social pillar. For example, many Latin American countries are members of GSG, which is dedicated to supporting investment and entrepreneurship that benefits people and the environment. GSG encourages companies to incorporate ESG factors into decision-making and reporting, even when not required by law.
The International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) recently endorsed new disclosure standards published by the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), and called for the rules to be considered worldwide. The IOSCO Board consists of 35 securities regulators (including the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission in the U.S.). The organization’s membership regulates more than 95 percent of the world’s securities markets across 130 jurisdictions and is expanding.
The announcement from IOSCO says the endorsement is “expected to resonate with growth and emerging markets which make up 75 percent of IOSCO membership,” and comes at a time “when a number of jurisdictions are taking steps to introduce mandatory requirements” to adopt the ISSB’s first two standards, IFRS S1 and IFRS S2, which specify General Requirements for Disclosure of Sustainability-related Financial Information and for Climate-related Disclosures.
The standards take effect on January 1, 2024.
A recent survey by Ernst & Young shows that chief financial officers globally rank ESG as their top long-term investment priority. The EY Global DNA of the CFO Survey included 1,000 CFOs and other financial leaders from 21 countries, representing entities with revenues of at least $1 billion annually. ESG tied with technology and digital innovation as the top long-term investment priority, with supply chain resilience coming in third. However, while the survey results support the view that strong ESG practices contribute to a company’s long-term financial health, the respondents also stated they were more likely to cut ESG investments to meet near-term profit goals.The move toward sustainable business practices is happening in different ways on varying timelines, but consumers, investors, and governments around the world know it must happen sooner rather than later. OWL provides accurate, transparent, global data to entities that need information about ESG practices to support their decisions. Contact us to learn more.