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Sustainable Investing and Finance

A growing number of large institutional investors today are incorporating ESG metrics into their capital allocation and stewardship criteria. This shift toward sustainable finance—which has evolved beyond socially responsible investing to include asset management and ownership—has profound implications for investors and companies alike.

Some of the largest and most influential institutional investors and asset managers are at the forefront of a powerful movement to add environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) standards to their criteria for capital allocation. As long-term stewards of capital, they recognize a mandate to consider whether the companies they own today will maintain a strong connection both with their customers and extended communities as environmental and social challenges increasingly impact the way we live and work. They also recognize that companies that commit to addressing these urgent issues stand to realize greater business opportunities in the future—and thus will achieve higher returns for their long-term shareholders.

Sustainable Finance Poses Risks and Promises Opportunities

The climate transition will yield both winners and losers; to thrive, businesses need a clear equity story and impact thesis as they decarbonize and invest.

Institutional investors that are best poised for the future are those that actively engage with companies through the “power of purpose” instead of simply liquidating their shares and walking away from positions they perceive as questionable in the new climate. Such investors are far better placed to push their holdings in the direction of long-term sustainability through such measures as voting proxies and shareholder resolutions—or by initiating open dialogue with company leaders. Private sector companies and investors that follow this strategy can carve out a far more active role for themselves in the quest for diversity, environmental sustainability, and other important societal goals.

Two trending developments are motivating large investors to embrace sustainable finance and to engage directly with corporate executives and boards:

  1. The ubiquity of information about corporate practices. This availability is shining a light on the roles that companies play in shaping the environment and making clear the pivotal role that the private sector will play in finding solutions—or not—to problems such as climate change. Much if not most innovation today occurs within the context of companies, whether startups or incumbents, adopting policies that deliver a positive impact. This is likely to remain the case.
  2. The mounting evidence that addressing ESG issues does not hurt financial performance. In fact, companies that are proactive on issues such as diversity, climate stabilization, and consumer responsiveness can deliver substantial financial rewards.

No Longer a Niche Practice

To guard against exposure to such events, investors understand that they can no longer treat sustainable financing as a niche practice. Asset managers, too, are increasingly shifting from policies that seek to avoid risk by excluding specific securities, in favor of strategies aimed at benefiting from companies that perform better on TSI issues. Examples include best-in-class and thematic investing; impact investments, such as low-carbon indices and green bonds; and seeking out companies that score well on gender diversity.


As of 2018, $30.7 trillion was being professionally managed globally under responsible investment strategies ranging from negative/exclusionary screening to corporate engagement…


…an increase of 34% in just two years, according to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance’s annual review.

These are still early days, however. Soon, we are likely to see sustainable financing morph into a more integrated, intentional approach. Investors will apply ESG integration and best-in-class analysis across all categories of assets in order to enhance their risk and return performance. Active ownership, too, will become an integrated model, with investors routinely engaging with boards and CEOs on companies’ efforts to increase diversity and address their environmental performance, just as they do now on executive compensation, corporate governance, and shareholder rights. Norms and negative screening will be used to inform engagement, not trigger exclusion.

Driving these developments is the increasingly critical role that private sector companies will play in addressing climate change, diversity, and other important societal issues—with large investors pushing them along this positive path. However, translating this investment strategy into tangible financial results for shareholders, both in the short and long term, requires insights into the steps that companies must take to heighten the impact and sustainability of their business models.

Our Client Work in Sustainable Investing and Finance

Humanitarian and resilience investments (HRIs) continue to increase, however, scaling them to impact is complex and requires cross-sector collaboration, innovation, and support. BCG partnered with WEF to uncover the current challenges hampering HRI market expansion and offer strategies to overcome them.

Banks Can Bet Big on Social Impact Hero Rect

Banks Can Bet Big on Social Impact

Financial institutions that lead on social tend to outperform. But there is no “net zero” for social—and banks are struggling to seize the opportunity.

Better Climate Financing Depends on Better Data | rectangle

Better Climate Financing Depends on Better Data

A new report by The Rockefeller Foundation and Boston Consulting Group finds that without standardized taxonomies, it can be difficult—if not impossible—for catalytic investors to trace financing flows and pinpoint gaps that they can meaningfully target.


Private Equity Should Take the Lead in Sustainability, Here’s How

Private equity is under increasing pressure to integrate ESG into investment strategies. That is a huge opportunity for the industry—and for society. In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, BCG experts examine how PE firms can lead the way in sustainable investing.

How Private Equity Can Create Value Through Purpose

How Private Equity Can Create Value Through Purpose

The industry holds clear advantages for making the businesses it invests in more environmentally and socially sustainable. Interviews with leading players point to five priorities.

The BCG-INSEAD Board ESG Pulse Check - rectangle

Directors Can Up Their Game on Environmental, Social, and Governance Issues

Board members at companies across geographies and industries understand that competitive advantage increasingly demands sustainability. And that is rapidly pushing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues higher on board agendas.

It’s Time for Institutional Investors to Embrace the S in ESG - rectangle

It’s Time for Institutional Investors to Embrace the S in ESG

Institutional investors were late to realize the alpha potential of clean tech and other environmental investments. They should avoid making the same mistake with social impact.

How Private Equity Can Converge on ESG Data - rectangle

How Private Equity Can Converge on ESG Data

Some of the industry’s top general and limited partners are working toward a standard set of metrics for tracking their portfolio companies’ ESG progress.

How Asset Owners Can Lead the Race to Net Zero - rectangle

How Asset Owners Can Go from Net Zero to Climate Leadership

This playbook shows how investors can work toward a carbon-neutral global economy while aiming for high financial returns.

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