As is often said – beauty is in the eye of the beholder – some might say the same about ESG ratings, then again maybe not. It wasn’t too long ago that Liz wrote about how ESG ratings and funds were causing so much confusion and frustration. The idea of a rating sounds great – evaluate a bunch of company-specific factors and calculate a rating so investors can evaluate companies based on their particular ESG interests and areas of focus. But, it’s not that simple because, among other things, we don’t have standard disclosure and reporting frameworks in place, raters use varying methodologies, investors use them differently, etc.
A recent BNY Mellon report based on a survey of 335 investor relations professionals says that only a small percentage of survey respondents agree with ESG rating providers’ analyses of their company. In 2019, slightly over half of survey respondents had communicated with an ESG rating provider in the past 12 months, which was up from 34% in 2017.
BNY Mellon’s report says that IR departments are increasingly monitoring their company’s ESG ratings, even more so at companies with higher market caps as they presumably have more staff. One reason that companies might want to monitor ESG ratings is because investors often raise ESG questions during engagement meetings so it’s helpful to know which ratings your investors track and understand those raters’ methodologies. The BNY Mellon report summarizes the increase in investor ESG questions by topic and industry sector so you can see the types of questions you might hear this year.
I’ve heard suggestions that one way ESG ratings might be more useful would be if the ratings assessed the evolution of a company over time and its trajectory toward sustainability rather than comparing firms, even in the same industry.
For now, the usefulness of ESG ratings as stand-alone information seems questionable as one rater might rate a company high and another might rate the same company low. If anything, companies can find usefulness in the ratings to prepare for investor engagement meetings by understanding which ratings investors are tracking and the related rating methodologies.
-Lynn Jokela, TheCorporateCounsel.net March 31, 2020
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