As a pioneer of sustainable investing, Robeco has long believed in putting our money where our mouth is. We’ve now done this by sharing valuable intellectual property through free access to our SDG Framework, which scores companies based on the contributions they make to the Sustainable Development Goals.
“You really have to integrate sustainability, otherwise it doesn’t make sense,” says Masja, who has been promoting SI techniques in all their forms for almost two decades. “Just like you have to change the system from the inside out. But that system doesn’t let itself be changed easily. You’ve got to be in for the long haul. And that requires leadership with a sustainable vision.”
It’s still about making returns for clients – generating ‘alpha’ – but in a way that doesn’t compromise future generations. “I’m convinced that in the really long term, a sustainable company is also a better investment,” Masja says.
The eternal dilemma
Trying to be sustainable and do the right thing while also needing to make money is the eternal dilemma. “Asset managers aren’t actually there to make the world a better place, but we do direct the money flows,” Masja says. The reality is that asset managers do generally navigate on outperformance and their assets under management first, and look at sustainability second.”
“We always have that discussion: whether making the world a better place fits within the fiduciary mandate. I believe that it is possible to do both: invest well, while following your own principles. At Robeco, we believe in investing for wealth AND well-being. Biodiversity, climate, human rights – we’re now trying to include all of that in our bottom-up investment research.”
One of the best frameworks
Sharing this bottom-up research is where the SI Open Access Initiative comes in, starting with the proprietary SDG Framework. “I think it’s one of the best frameworks out there,” Masja says. “But what if clients want to gear their entire portfolio toward the SDGs? Then there’s not much they can do with those scores of ours, because they only cover Robeco’s portfolios.”
“If you want to enable your clients to manage their entire portfolio based on our unique SDG Framework, you need to open it up. We’ve done this through this initiative, where clients and academics can gain insight into research that until recently was exclusive.”
“We have to deal with competitors in our industry, but in the area of sustainability, we actually work together on many fronts, because only by doing so together can you achieve anything.”
This story is an excerpt from a longer interview from the Quantifying sustainability book.