These Asset Owners Are Trying to Make Sustainability Easier

APG, AustralianSuper, BCI, and PGGM have teamed up to try to standardize sustainability metrics.

Ty Wright/Bloomberg

Ty Wright/Bloomberg

Asset owners in Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands are trying to solve one of the biggest problems plaguing sustainable investing: There’s no consistent way to measure it.

Their solution: a new, global platform for collecting and measuring data on how companies adhere to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, a set of sustainability initiatives established by the UN in 2015.

The platform was launched Monday by Dutch pension managers APG and PGGM, alongside AustralianSuper and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation. Dubbed the Sustainable Development Investments Asset Owner Platform, it will provide data for investors to assess companies based on how they contribute to sustainability goals like clean energy and reduced inequality.

“Any investor will be able to subscribe to the platform and it will allow them to very easily identify to what extent a company’s business is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals,” Jennifer Coulson, BCI’s vice president for ESG, said by phone Monday.

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According to Coulson, the platform had already been in the works for some time when the Dutch funds invited BCI to join the project.

“The Dutch had been working on it, but it was really important that this be a global platform and have global appeal,” she said. “We didn’t want this to be only applicable to Europeans; we wanted this to be something that all asset owners and all asset managers can adopt so that company data is easily compared.”

As of its launch, the platform had sustainability classifications for 8,000 companies — “Which you could never do as an investor going company by company,” Coulson pointed out. These classifications were generated using APG’s data science company Entis, which spun out of Deloitte in 2018. “The platform really utilized AI tech to do this at scale,” Coulson added.

While numerous other ESG and sustainability metrics already exist, the SDI AOP is unique in that was created and led by asset owners. It’s also, according to Coulson, “very specific” to the UN’s sustainability goals. “It’s not just a broad ESG framework,” she said.

The four asset owners plan to make their platform commercially available to other asset owners and managers starting this fall, and will distribute it through analytics firm Qontigo.

“For PGGM this platform is an important next step in a process to mobilize institutional capital around the big challenges of our time,” PGGM investment chief Eloy Lindeijer said in a statement. “By collaborating with asset owners from different continents we hope that this SDI AOP will contribute to being a global standard for investors.”