Over the past year, DNB Asset Management’s (DNB AM) ESG team has worked closely with the fixed income team to further improve processes and work towards integrating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors into credit analysis and investment decision making in a more systematic way.
We have created a framework for assessing material ESG risks and opportunities per sector. Based on this framework, we have developed and sent out sector-specific questionnaires that account for distinct conditions within the Norwegian market. We have scored bond issuers on the quality and transparency of their ESG work within the bank, utilities and real estate sectors based on the responses we have received. We have now had initial follow-up dialogues with some issuers where we have outlined our findings and encouraged increased transparency. Our goal is to influence the companies in a positive direction.
Strong overall performance
Top-level results show that almost 60% of issuers scored receive a score in the average range (yellow). Approximately 26% of those that responded to our request receive a high score (green). Only three companies did not respond to our request.
Unlike the banks there is no general observation that utilities are signalling a significant ramping up of sustainability efforts moving forward, though some specific companies have plans for this.
Good performance on environment
Norwegian utilities produce almost exclusively renewable energy (hydropower in particular). As a result, many environmental aspects associated with this are heavily regulated in Norway and most companies receive an above average to high score. However, a general takeaway is that several of the companies analysed would benefit from greater transparency around their climate and environmental efforts, and some have signalled that there are plans for this moving forward. Encouraged measures involve aligning their reporting to the recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.
As demonstrated in Figure 3, opportunities for improvement lie particularly in regards to measuring and reporting carbon footprint. Moreover, improved reporting on biodiversity/ecological impacts and waste and hazardous materials management would be beneficial.
Measures are in place to safeguard human capital
We observe generally strong performance also in regards to social and governance topics.
On the social side, the sector-specific questions related to human capital drive the overall strong performance on the Social pillar. This is because many companies have publicly available ethical guidelines and expectations towards suppliers, formal procedures for filing complaints, offer employee benefits, measure employee satisfaction and have routines to prevent social dumping.
However, similar to banks, a notable weakness was utilities’ strategies to address gender equality and diversity. As described in our expectations document on this topic, we encourage integration of gender equality and diversity into recruitment processes and professional development programmes, as well as target setting and reporting on progress towards targets.
Tone from the top matters
On the governance side, we have not asked any sector-specific questions as general questions around governance were determined to be sufficient for this sector. These questions cover topics including public anti-corruption and whistleblower policies, independent majority on the Board, signatory to the UN Global Compact, and ESG policy, strategy, and Board-level oversight. As illustrated in Figure 5, most companies score above average to high in regards to governance.
Nonetheless, in dialogues with companies we will continue to emphasise towards those that do not currently have it in place that Board-level oversight over sustainability work and a clear strategy and policy are key.