The topic of biodiversity may sound just as amorphous as ESG. But compared with climate change, it may be an easier subject to broach with US investors who lean Republican.
Biodiversity refers to forests, oceans and other ecosystems, as well as efforts to protect them. It’s an area that isn’t politically fraught like subjects such as “net zero,” said John Hoeppner, who runs US stewardship and sustainable investments at Legal & General Investment Management America.
“Using phrases related to carbon emissions instantly becomes a highly political conversation in a Republican state,” he said. Yet conversations related to deforestation, water and land use are more unifying. “Habitat conservation has support across the political spectrum,” he said.
Environmental, social and governance investing has been attacked by GOP politicians who see it furthering Democratic goals like fighting global warming at the expense of the fossil fuel industry. Some red states have barred Wall Street firms that promote ESG from managing public funds, prompting some banks and investment firms to be less vocal about environmental and social issues.
Read More: GOP Fights Boom That’s Made Texas King of Clean Energy
Biodiversity involves conservation and restoration of natural habitats, as well as promoting sustainable practices. And since it includes more tangible topics like land and water rather than net-zero goals that are far off in the future, it’s easier for people to grasp, Hoeppner said.
Take for instance deforestation, he said. Investors can check supply chains to see whether rainforests are being cut down. “That’s much clearer to understand,” he said.
The finance industry has been paying more attention to biodiversity after a landmark deal was struck at a United Nations conference in December, paving the way for new regulations and increased investor demand. Money managers have started biodiversity strategies to invest in companies that they say will help minimize harm to natural habitats.
Global assets in biodiversity-related investments may rise 20-fold to more than $400 billion by 2030, analysts at Bank of America Corp. estimated last month. Earlier this year, Northern Trust Corp. started the world’s biggest biodiversity-focused fund with about $1.2 billion in assets.
A recent analysis by the Finance for Biodiversity Foundation identified food, beverages and tobacco as top industries to target for investors looking to have positive biodiversity impacts.
Read More: Red States Reap Biggest Rewards From Biden Climate Law
A survey conducted in March by Penn State University and political consulting group Rokk Solutions found that most Republican and Democratic voters say corporate environmental action is relevant to their financial futures. More than 55% of GOP voters agreed that efforts such as land and water conservation, waste management and biodiversity were germane to the future finances. For net-zero goals, support in the ESG investing survey slumped to 42%.
“I wouldn’t focus on net-zero commitments for public consumption,” said Lindsay Singleton, chief development officer at Rokk Solutions. “For the general voting public, there’s probably a pretty small percentage of folks who truly get the parts per million and GHGs,” she said referring to greenhouse gases. “It’s a very complex issue.”
Besides, people “hate” net zero because it’s so hard to hold companies accountable and understand what the individual incremental actions are that will get businesses to reach goals, said Tessa Recendes, assistant professor of management and organization at Penn State University.
“There’s a lot of potential for false promises,” she said.
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