The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report made for sobering reading. Based on the most up to date, science-based understanding of the climate system and climate change, the report found that it “is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. “ According to the report, human influence has ‘very likely’ to ‘almost certainly’ contributed to global land and ocean warming, the retreat of glaciers, the decrease in Artic sea ice, rising sea levels and the increase severity and number of extreme weather and climate events that are occurring across every region across the globe.

The Lonsec Sustainable Managed Portfolios have a dual objective of delivering strong risk-adjusted returns while also making a positive contribution to the key environmental and social challenges facing society as measured by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Climate change impacts a number, if not all, of the SDGs.

For example, changing weather patterns, more severe droughts, floods and tropical cyclones can significantly impact SDG 2 Zero hunger (and consequently SDG 3 Good health and well-being) due to increased food insecurity. SDG 1 No poverty will also be affected, as livelihoods, particularly in the agricultural sector, are lost. Climate change is also clearly impacting SDG 14 Life below water with coral bleaching events and ocean acidification on the rise and 15 Life on Land as decreased biodiversity, changing climate zones, and heatwaves threaten the extinction of many species.

The Lonsec Sustainable Managed Portfolios seek to address climate change in several ways;

  • We invest in strategies that are actively looking to solve the challenges of climate change. Impact strategies such as the Impax Sustainable Leaders Fund which invests globally in companies that are active in resource efficiency and environmental markets and the Pengana WHEB Sustainable Impact Fund which invests in sustainable investment themes including environmental themes such as cleaner energy, sustainable transport and water management. The Lonsec Sustainable Portfolios also have exposure to green and sustainable bonds through our fixed income strategies, where the proceeds of the bonds go directly towards funding climate solutions such as wind and solar farms.
  • We limit our exposure to fossil fuels, and in particular, thermal coal. As the highest emitting fossil fuel, coal is simply an exposure we want to avoid. Most of our underlying managers go further and exclude fossil fuels altogether which we strongly encourage as alternative technologies including renewables become more accessible. We monitor the portfolio’s exposure to each of the major fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) using a third-party data provider to ensure that our exposures are low or zero and aligned with the goals of the Paris agreement, and we track the overall carbon footprint of the portfolio.
  • We invest in strategies such as the BetaShares Global Sustainability Leaders ETF (ETHI) that targets ‘climate leaders’. These are global large cap companies that have passed screens to exclude companies with direct or significant exposure to fossil fuels. 100% of the power generated by the companies in ETHI come from renewable sources.
  • We invest with managers that have strong Environment Social and Governance (ESG) integration, that is, they understand and incorporate the physical and transition risks of climate change into their financial analysis. They are managers that engage directly with companies around their climate disclosures and on their transition plans to net zero emissions. While targeting climate leaders and excluding fossil fuels can assist in keeping the carbon footprint of the portfolio low, it does little to reduce carbon emissions in the real-world – it simply passes the problem and emissions onto other investors. All companies, not just those focused on climate solutions, need to be part of the transition if we are to have a real-world impact. We want fund managers to work with all companies to reduce their emissions across the board and improve the carbon footprint of the entire market. In this regard, we see ESG integration as playing a critical role in delivering to the SDGs.

We believe the Lonsec Sustainable Portfolios are well positioned from a climate change perspective, however, more needs to be done. We will continue to work with fund managers and encourage more ambitious goal setting. At present we have 35% of FUM in the portfolio committed to net zero emissions by 2050 either through the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative or independent commitments. We want to see that number increase. It is important to Lonsec and important to our clients that we seek to urgently address climate change. We believe that addressing the impacts of climate change can help build more resilient portfolios and deliver more stable and higher long-term returns for our clients.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2021 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

In 2020 Lonsec introduced ESG assessment scores for all its managed fund reviews. More than just a simple style classification, Lonsec reviews the actual implementation of ESG through the investment process and incorporates that assessment as one of the factors that determine a fund’s final investment rating. Now well into the second year of our enhanced review process we have noticed some clear actions by managers over the last twelve months to improve their overall ESG implementation.

The most immediately obvious change, year over year, has been an increase in the public provision of ESG policies by managers and a clear improved trend in reporting on proxy voting and engagement. Importantly, though, ESG policies are improving in quality, clarity and commitment. Lonsec favours policies with clear ESG objectives and beliefs, and board or CEO signoff and buy-in. Lonsec is pleased to note an overall improvement in proxy voting policies, with more of them referencing ESG as important considerations and leading policies clearly stating how a manager might be expected to address and vote on particular issues.

Unfortunately, there remains a clear gap, however, between voting expectations and actual outcomes. Lonsec is concerned that actual voting decisions, particularly for ESG and Sustainability labelled funds, might not align with the expectations of fund investors, particularly with respect to environmental, Paris agreement based and diversity issues. For this reason, Lonsec places a high level of importance on clear, reporting of voting decisions, with leading fund managers providing clear rationales for why they have voted in a particular way. This is especially important where client expectations are likely to be aligned a to a certain perspective, given the type of fund invested in. There have been a few clear leaders in this respect with some delivering improved functionality and transparency of voting intentions and rationales for contentious decisions, published prior to the AGM’s and votes being lodged. Lonsec sees this as a is a very positive move and would encourage its widespread adoption.

Engagement is also a key ESG implementation approach where managers have improved their overall policies and reporting. Assessment of engagement activities by Lonsec however, remain difficult. As most managers prefer to engage “behind closed doors”, a thorough review of the passion, commitment and position being taken by managers is difficult to assess. Disappointingly a recent interview with Man Group CEO indicated that many of his largest institutional shareholders, who claim engagement as a key plank of their stewardship activities, don’t actually engage on key issues like remuneration policies, even when his company tries to engage with them! For this reason, Lonsec’s process looks for the manager to deliver clear proof points where strong engagement is claimed.

These broad improvements have meant that, overall, managers are scoring higher than they were a year ago on Lonsec’s proprietary scoring models. As a result, the “the bar is being lifted” and managers who’s ESG approach is static are likely to slip in our relative rankings.

Lonsec does note, however, that there is still considerable room for improvement by many managers on the transparent integration of ESG into their investment processes. While an increasing number of managers are utilising external ESG ratings and data, or proving their own ESG research, there remains room for improvement in articulating how said research actually impacts investment decisions. Overall ESG risk measurement at the portfolio level and clear feedback loops to portfolio decisions are largely missing from most managers processes.

Lonsec is also keen for managers to be more transparent about the nature of their ESG styles and how that might impact security selection. There is a wide variety of approaches to ESG integration, not all of which naturally align with broad investor expectations. Lonsec would welcome simpler descriptions of the ESG approach being adopted rather than the common, more generic, “ESG is integrated into our research/investment process” with an explanation of how this actually works.

All in all, Lonsec is pleased to report improving policy and reporting transparency from managers and is looking for continued improvements on investment process descriptions and robustness.

Author: Tony Adams

Issued by Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec). Warning: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any advice is General Advice without considering the objectives, financial situation and needs of any person. Before making a decision read the PDS and consider your financial circumstances or seek personal advice. Disclaimer: Lonsec gives no warranty of accuracy or completeness of information in this document, which is compiled from information from public and third-party sources. Opinions are reasonably held by Lonsec at compilation. Lonsec assumes no obligation to update this document after publication. Except for liability which can’t be excluded, Lonsec, its directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error, inaccuracy, misstatement or omission, or any loss suffered through relying on the document or any information. ©2021 Lonsec. All rights reserved. This report may also contain third party material that is subject to copyright. To the extent that copyright subsists in a third party it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material. Any unauthorised reproduction of this information is prohibited. 

Lonsec’s complete suite of managed accounts is now available on Macquarie’s wrap platform with the addition of the new Sustainable portfolios. The Sustainable portfolios provide greater choice for clients seeking investment strategies that align with their personal values and demonstrate strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.

Recognising the growing demand for responsible investment solutions, Lonsec developed the Sustainable portfolios’ Balanced, Growth and High Growth risk profiles with a unique philosophy that looks through both lenses of ESG, which focus on the underlying managers’ process, approach and integration of ESG factors, along with Sustainability measures, which focus on the funds’ positive impact on the world.

To measure the portfolios’ contribution to society and the environment, we assess funds against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework. We look at the activities of the companies held in a fund and net the positive contributions to the 17 SGDs against the negative impact of exposures to controversial industries.

Deanne Baker, Portfolio Manager for the Sustainable portfolios said, ‘The Sustainable portfolios now have a 6-month track record and, not only have the outperformed the Benchmark over the last 3 and 6 months, but they have also made positive contributions across a number of the SDGs including SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, 3 Good Health and Well Being, SDG 1 No Poverty, SDG 5 Gender Equality, SDG2 Zero Hunger and SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy. With the addition of our Sustainable portfolios on Macquarie, we are thrilled to offer an investment solution that aligns with the needs of our clients and can have a positive impact on the planet”.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2021 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

It sounds simple enough: invest in things that are good for the planet and society. Investing sustainably should be that simple, but in practice things are a lot less straightforward.

Confusion quickly sets in when we try to navigate the different approaches to sustainable investing. Much of this confusion stems from the plethora of industry terminology and definitions, and a general lack of understanding about how different product issuers approach questions around sustainability. Advisers with clients serious about taking an ethical and sustainable approach to their investment decisions are often left to un-muddy the waters.

Sustainable investing is a simple concept, but it’s not always simple to implement. The following three steps will help you clarify the sustainability issue and find an investment solution that genuinely meets your needs and expectations.

1. Understand the product issuer’s frame of reference

Not everyone thinks of sustainability in the same way. Some may think of it as actively avoiding certain industries, while others may see it as a way of mitigating the risk of out-dated industrial processes, bad PR, or the threat of disruption.

This can lead to a number of misunderstandings that can be detrimental to your objectives. Before we begin comparing different sustainable investment offerings, it’s necessary to nail down some terms:

ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing: The ESG approach to investing involves taking into account ESG factors (i.e. impact on climate change, board composition, or relations with employees, suppliers and the community) as they relate to a particular business, using a systematic research process. ESG factors are used to enhance traditional financial analysis by assessing the risk these factors pose to a company’s business model and using this information to optimise their portfolio.

Impact investing: The aim of impact of investing is to make a positive difference by investing specifically in businesses, non-profits or other organisations that are seeking to improve the world through the development of new technologies (e.g. clean energy or sustainable agricultural practices), the provision of essential community services (e.g. open banking, micro-finance, medical services), or the construction of critical infrastructure. The bulk of impact investing is done at scale by institutional investors and major philanthropic organisations.

Sustainable investing: The sustainable investing approach specifically targets sustainable themes (e.g. low carbon industries, Paris or UN SDG-aligned outcomes) and avoids certain harmful businesses and industries (e.g. tobacco, fossil fuels, gambling, weapons manufacturing). Sustainable investing may incorporate elements of ESG and even impact investing, but with the goal of achieving investment goals while considering the activities and practices of the underlying companies in the portfolio.

Each of these types of investing fall under the broader rubric of ‘Responsible Investment’ (RI). While these definitions are similar, they also differ in some important ways. For example, ESG, in contrast to sustainable investing, tends to be more focused on process than outcomes. While investment decisions may be informed by a sustainable overlay, an ESG fund manager may invest in unsustainable companies if it makes sense from a risk and return perspective.

ESG is a perfectly valid process, but it is important to understand the framework used by individual fund managers and how it aligns with your own values and expectations.

In Lonsec’s experience, ESG is interpreted and implemented in different ways. A survey of Lonsec’s financial advisers revealed a wide variety of responses when it comes to defining ESG. Half of advisers surveyed believed that a strong ESG framework means using a range of filters or screens on the portfolio. While this might seem like a reasonable assumption, for most fund managers, what really defines an ESG product is simply whether ESG risks are considered when making investment decisions. It doesn’t speak to the actual outcome, i.e. the companies and activities the product invests in.

Lonsec’s adviser survey revealed some confusion about the meaning of ESG


Source: Lonsec

This highlights the importance of digging deeper to find out what the product issuer means when they label a product ‘responsible’, ‘ethical’, ‘ESG’, or ‘sustainable’. It might not mean what you think it means, and it may be something different from what your client is looking for.

2. Determine what your client’s expectations are

We all have different values, priorities, and objectives. When we aim to invest sustainably, we will naturally be forced to make trade-offs. Investing in financial markets means accepting that we’ll end up with some exposure to things we don’t like. Even a company with impeccable green credentials will leave some carbon footprint. And environmental considerations may be only part of the equation. Some companies might be investing in green energy but still be lagging on gender equality and other social indicators. There is no perfect company, and likewise no perfect portfolio.

This is where individual, subjective values come into play. It’s up to the adviser to work with the client to determine their investment objectives—including risk and return preferences—while thinking about the types of exposures they are comfortable with from a sustainability perspective.

For this reason, not all self-described ESG or sustainable investment products will suit. For example, an ESG product may still invest in industries like tobacco and coal if it makes sense from a pure risk and return perspective. While this would suit some investors, it would not be appropriate for someone who is looking specifically to avoid investing in these industries.

When Lonsec assesses an investment product’s sustainability, it considers both sustainability and ESG. We seek to understand the effectiveness of the fund manager’s ESG process, but ultimately we’re interested in the product’s underlying portfolio: the companies, industries, and activities the product invests in.

If your clients are serious about investing sustainably, you should have a full discussion about exactly what it is they’re looking for so you know which products can best meet their needs. As regulations and standards become more stringent, we also need to be more cognisant of our obligations. The FASEA Code of Ethics Standard requires advisers to act in the best interests of their clients, which means product recommendations must be appropriate to meet the client’s objectives while considering their broader, long-term interests. This includes any social or ethical preferences the client might have.

The Financial Planning Association (FPA) guidelines on the FASEA Code of Ethics states: “Financial advisers should ask their clients if there are any environmental, social or ethical considerations that are important to them”. This involves having the sustainability conversation, determining the approach that works for you as the client, and recommending a solution that meets your needs and expectations.

3. Cut through the piles of data

Once you’ve established what the client is looking for, the next step is to identify suitable investments that fit our criteria. If you’ve picked up an ESG research report lately, you’ll know these tend to be stuffed full of metrics, some of which may not even be directly relevant to us. It’s difficult to know who these reports are designed for, because most investors and many advisers would suffer a severe bout of MEGO (‘my eyes glaze over’) if they tried to read through it.

Data is central to sustainable investing. Without the right data—and without the right quality of data—we can’t make good investment decisions. But the key is bringing this data together in a way that’s clear and actionable. A data dump is next to useless, even if the data itself is perfectly good.

Effective sustainability research is able to look through an investment product’s portfolio to assess sustainability at the security level, taking account of each company’s production methods, their role in the supply chain, and any second- and even third-order effects resulting from their activities. It also needs to summarise this in a digestible format that can be read and understood by advice clients, providing a clear rationale for why the product was recommended for them.

As an example, Lonsec’s sustainability reports are only two pages long, but they bring together a vast array of data to enable better decision making. The reports show the product’s exposure to and alignment with the United Nation’s 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SGDs), as well as ten controversial industries like fossil fuels, gambling, and tobacco. The product’s overall sustainability is presented in a single Sustainability Score, measured between one and five bees (a widely recognised symbol of sustainability given the critical role they play in our ecosystem).

Good sustainability research goes beyond product labels to tell clients exactly what they are investing in. It should also make it easier for you as the adviser to demonstrate the value of your advice and recommendations in a tangible way, without a deluge of extraneous metrics that confuse your message and make it harder for investors to understand the real benefit of your investment solution.

Keep communicating the benefits

Regular communication is the key to client retention. We all know this, but in reality maintaining both the frequency and relevance of our communications can divert us from other necessary business operations, including winning new clients and growing our advice practice. Having a suite of managed portfolios can help scale not only your investment process but also your portfolio communications, making the task of portfolio reporting and the generation of individual client communications significantly easier.

Once we have the right investment solution in place, we need to be proactive in communicating the benefits. Again, the right research and reporting is crucial. The sustainability conversation doesn’t end once the client’s portfolio is place. It will need to evolve over time, just as community expectations and client preferences change. But if we can do this successfully, we can create even more value for our clients, and add a whole other dimension to the value of our advice offering.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2021 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

A lack of clarity around environmental, social and governance (ESG) approaches to investing is creating confusion and making it harder for end investors to choose an investment product that fits their objectives and values.

Investors relying on pure ESG product scores or labels risk being misled about the true sustainability of the product’s underlying investments. According to analysis conducted by Lonsec, funds that score well on a pure ESG basis do not necessarily score well based on sustainability measures that consider the specific industries and activities the fund is exposed to.

The traditional ESG approach tends to be more about process and less about outcomes. ESG fund managers tend to look at sustainability factors in terms of the risks they pose to a company’s business model. Academic research supports the assertion that companies that follow strong ESG standards are more likely to outperform those that don’t.

While ESG analysis is an important element of a fund manager’s investment approach, it can create confusion for investors looking for investment products that explicitly align with their values.

In some cases, you can end up with a portfolio that looks very similar to the broader market when it comes to exposure to things like fossil fuels, gambling, tobacco, or deforestation. For many investors, ESG integration might sound good, but in practice it will often fail to meet their expectations.

Lonsec analysis highlights gap between ESG and sustainability

Data from Lonsec show that 19% of Australian equity managers rated by Lonsec score highly for ESG awareness but score poorly for sustainability. Likewise, 18% of managers fare relatively poorly in ESG awareness, but end up performing well in terms of the sustainability of the fund’s underlying investments.

Relationship between Lonsec’s ESG and Sustainability Scores

Source: Lonsec

Lonsec’s analysis covers 159 Australian equity funds, which are scored separately based on their ESG integration and the underlying ‘goodness’ of their portfolio.

Lonsec’s ESG score is based on the policy and reporting framework of each manager, and how deeply integrated its ESG process is with their investment decision making.

In contrast, Lonsec’s Sustainability Score looks through to the fund’s underlying investments and assesses how well they align with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as how much exposure the fund has—directly and indirectly—to ten controversial industries.

Most financial advisers, if you asked them, would assume there was a strong correlation between ESG and sustainability. That there is such a significant discrepancy demonstrates that we need better communication and better tools to help investors make informed decisions about where they put their money.

ESG funds must ensure they meet investors’ expectations

If ESG funds wish to be viewed as sustainable, they need to be transparent about the composition of their portfolio and the size of their exposure to unsustainable industries.

Whether it’s a company or a managed fund, what advice clients really wants to know is: what industries and activities am I ultimately investing in and supporting? While investors care about a manager’s investment process they are often more concerned about the impact their investment has on society, the planet, and future generations.

Lonsec’s Sustainability Score helps funds become more transparent by giving end-investors the information they need to build a genuine values-based portfolio.

For fund managers who agree to have their fund scored, Lonsec provides a Sustainability Report detailing the relative success of the fund in supporting the SDGs and minimising exposure to controversial industries. Lonsec’s sustainability research assesses the exposures of individual companies across the entire supply chain, allowing individual investors to make their own decisions about how and where to invest.

Finally, Lonsec’s Sustainability Score reflects the net impact of these measures, which is peer ranked and results in a score between 1 and 5 bees.

We chose bees to represent our Sustainability Score because bees are a symbolic reminder of the importance of biodiversity in maintaining the health of the planet. When investors see 5 bees next to a fund’s name, we want them to associate that fund with the most sustainable investment outcomes in the market.

There are certainly a lot of traditional fund managers who have very good ESG processes and a solid understanding of the risks. However, if they feel the market is compensating investors sufficiently for these risks, they’ll take them. This is because they’re thinking about ESG in terms of the future value of a firm, but they’re not necessarily thinking about the future of the planet or society.

There are funds that will be assessed strongly by Lonsec as ESG managers because they do the work, understand the risks, and engage with companies. But that doesn’t mean that their portfolios will align with what investors are looking for.

Hence the need for a new way of assessing sustainability. This new approach is crucial in order to determine what is really going on behind the ‘sustainable’ and ‘ESG’ labels. This means looking beyond the marketing stories that funds are trying to tell. Instead, we need to assess portfolios based on what investors are actually exposed to: the companies, industries, and practices that make up the fund’s portfolio.

By mapping these exposures to the SDGs and controversial industries, and distilling this into a single score, we hope to give investors the tools and information they need to make investment decisions that result in the sustainable outcomes they are looking for. We also want to present this information in a way that allows users to clearly demonstrate how their investment selection is helping them contribute to a better world.

ESG is not a redundant process, but investors need to be aware of what they are and are not getting from it. If investors understand what ESG products are trying to achieve and how they work, then they may find these products valuable. If not, then they have the information they need to find more sustainable alternatives. It all starts with education and transparency.

To help advisers and their clients navigate the often confusing sustainability landscape, Lonsec introduced its Sustainability Scores to give users an understanding of how well an investment product—whether an exchange trade fund (ETF), managed account, or traditional managed fund—lives up to its sustainable credo.

Funds covered by Lonsec are issued with a Sustainability Score, which reflects the underlying investments of individual products and their compatibility with the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ultimately, the purpose of the Sustainability Scores and the underlying research is to help investors answer the fundamental question: ‘What am I really invested in?’

If you can’t answer that, then you don’t know whether your portfolio is truly delivering sustainable outcomes.

Under Lonsec’s sustainable research approach, a Sustainability Report is issued for each fund that undergoes assessment. This is a two-page document detailing the relative success of the fund in supporting the SDGs, together with any exposure to 10 controversial industries. The Sustainability Score reflects the net impact of these measures, which is peer ranked and results in a score of between one and five bees.

There are plenty of fund managers who claim environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials, but how many of them are the real deal?

As investors become more interested in sustainable and ESG investing, fund managers are responding with an ever-growing range of investment products.

But the challenge for advisers is in distilling the true-to-label ESG players from those which only tick some of the boxes. Unfortunately, there are information asymmetries and knowledge barriers that can get in the way.

There have always been ‘pretenders’ in the mix when it comes to ESG managers, but part of the issue is that mum and dad investors view ESG very differently to professional fund managers. Confusion partly arises due to the different approaches to ESG, and this is where a gap in understanding arises.

Often, when institutional fund managers discuss ESG, they are looking at it through an investment prism: i.e. how ESG risks affect the value of a particular company. However, when regular investors consider ESG, they are primarily concerned about the ESG risks as they pertain to the planet and their community.

The bottom line is that institutional fund managers and regular retail investors may be approaching ESG from two different angles. Part of the education process for advisers is to work through this discrepancy and ensure that what their clients are investing in genuinely meets their expectations.

In order to do this, advisers need to understand the underlying investments of individual investment products and be in a position to make assessments and comparisons based on objective criteria. This is why Lonsec has been working with advisers to develop a new suite of research that is designed to give people the ability to identify investments that align with their values.

 The Lonsec Sustainable Managed Portfolios were launched on HUB24 on 8 December 2020 and investor capital was put to work immediately in improving societal and environmental outcomes. The Sustainable portfolios have been well supported to date, with an increasing number of investors looking to invest in not only a way that delivers solid returns, but also aligns to their values.

While we don’t yet have a full month of performance to report on, the portfolios have performed in line with our expectations over the first few weeks, generating positive returns for investors.

And looking forward, there couldn’t be a better time to invest sustainably.

Momentum on climate action is gathering pace as governments, companies and communities seek to move out of this COVID-19 induced haze and look towards a greener and more equitable recovery.  Europe and the UK have committed billions towards what some are terming a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, encouraging innovation and private investment in clean technologies, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, while at the same time protecting the environment. China too, has backed a ‘green recovery’, setting ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions, re-forestation and increasing renewable energy sources including wind and solar. With the US re-joining the Paris agreement on 20 January 2021, two thirds of global polluters have now committed to carbon neutrality, or net-zero emissions by 2060 at the latest. These recent developments provide strong regulatory tailwinds for those wanting to invest sustainably.

And while some governments have been dragging their heels on the climate action front (Australia is looking increasingly isolated in its stance), locally companies are forging ahead with their own commitments to reaching net zero. According to Climate Action 100+, 43% of the world’s largest emitters (including Qantas, BHP and Woodside Energy) have now adopted some form of net zero emissions target. While the nature of those targets varies, we view this as an important step and highlights the positive impact capital owners can have through direct shareholder engagement.

Shareholders are voicing their concerns on a range of ESG issues from modern slavery to gender diversity as well as climate related issues. Public awareness of sustainability issues has never been higher.  As the Boards of AMP and Rio Tinto are now acutely aware, listening to and responding to broader stakeholder concerns is becoming increasingly important.

But for all this optimism, there is still much work to do, not only on the climate front, but across a range of other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which these portfolios aim to align themselves.  COVID-19 has exacerbated inequality around the world, health outcomes have diverged significantly, and poverty is on the rise particularly in some of the hardest hit developing nations. It is important that as we move into 2021, governments, companies and investment managers alike look to maintain that positive momentum and ensure no-one gets left behind as we build back better.

Now, let’s get to work!

Portfolio update

From a portfolio perspective, one of the ways we work to align the portfolio with SDG 13: Climate Action is through our investment in BNP Paribas Environmental Equity Trust.  The strategy is managed by Impax Asset Management, a London based manager who invests globally in companies that are active in the resource efficiency and environmental markets.  The top holding in the Trust is Linde Plc, a global leader in industrial gases.  In January 2021, Linde announced it would build and operate the world’s largest PEM Electrolyzer for Green Hydrogen. Once built the total green hydrogen being produced will be able to fuel approximately six hundred fuel cell buses, driving 40 million kilometres and saving up to 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide tailpipe emissions per year. This investment also aligns well to SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy.

On the fixed income side, the Pendal Sustainable Australian Fixed Interest Fund invested in the Australian dollar KfW Green Bond. KfW is a development bank owned by the German government Projects supported by this bond include the construction of a wind park, solar farm and energy efficient housing in Germany. This bond aligns well to a number of SDGs including SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and SDG 13: Climate Action.

With initiatives such as the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative, launched in December 2020, global fund managers are also committing to net zero. This initiative aims to secure further backing among asset managers to eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their portfolios. Three managers we are invested with have joined as founding members of this initiative; AXA Investment Management, Wheb and Atlas Infrastructure.

From 1 January 2021, Ausbil announced that it was removing fossil fuel exposure from the investment universe for the Ausbil Active Sustainable Fund.  This includes the exploration, mining and/or distribution of fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, oil sands and coal.  70% of the equity managers in the Lonsec Sustainable portfolios now exclude all forms of fossil fuel investments, the remaining 30% exclude at least thermal coal.

Role Role
Australian Equities Real Assets
Australian Ethical Australian Shares Fund ESG / Sustainable / Impact Resolution Global Property (Hdgd) ESG
Alphinity Sustainable Share Fund ESG / Sustainable ATLAS Infrastructure Australian Feeder Fund AUD Heged ESG
Ausbil Active Sustainable Equity ESG / Sustainable VanEck Vectors Australian Property ETF Passive
BetaShares Australian Sustainability Leaders ETF ESG / Sustainable
Global Equities Fixed Income
AXA IM Sustainable Equity Fund ESG / Sustainable Pendal Sustainable Australian Fixed Interest Fund ESG / Sustainable / Impact
BNP Paribas Environmental Equity Trust ESG / Sustainable / Impact Altius Sustainable Bond Fund ESG / Sustainable / Impact
Pengana WHEB Sustainable Impact Fund ESG / Sustainable / Impact PIMCO ESG Global Bond Fund ESG / Sustainable / Impact
BetaShares Global Sustainability Leaders ETF ESG / Sustainable Vanguard International Fixed Interest Index ETF Heged Passive

Outlook

The last quarter has seen a sharp rotation into some of the more cyclical and value orientated sectors of the market. We expect this rotation to be relatively short lived. Longer term, we see the thematics that have underpinned the strong performance of the ESG/Sustainability sector over the last 18 months to remain intact.  Companies that are focused on delivering solutions to the challenges facing society and the environment are particularly well placed in a low-growth world and one boosted by a green recovery. Regulatory tailwinds and green fiscal policy initiatives are now providing good support. Companies that perform well on ESG metrics, that is companies that understand and factor in the risk of climate change, companies that are well-governed and maintain their social license to operate by meeting stakeholder expectations, should also outperform. Opportunities abound as we emerge from COVID-19 pandemic with the chance to ‘rebuild better’.

Watch the recording.

Many of you will be aware that your clients are increasingly seeking out investments that align with their personal values.

Further to the launch of the Lonsec Sustainability Score, the Lonsec Sustainable Managed Portfolios will utilise Lonsec’s extensive portfolio construction experience, together with detailed sustainable investing (and ESG) research, to provide a solution that genuinely caters to the needs of investors.

Listen to the key members of the Lonsec investment team to find out more about how the portfolios are formulated and how they can help deliver what your clients really need.

Important information: Any express or implied rating or advice is limited to general advice, it doesn’t consider any personal needs, goals or objectives.  Before making any decision about financial products, consider whether it is personally appropriate for you in light of your personal circumstances. Obtain and consider the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product and seek professional personal advice before making any decisions regarding a financial product.