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Sustainability Matters

May 2021

by Marcus Pilkington

Plan for a better tomorrow, today.

Responsible investment is a catch-all term to broadly describe funds that invest to make a positive change, either to the environment or for society. Within this umbrella term, there are four broad investment approaches: ethical exclusion; responsible practice; sustainable solutions; and impact funds.

Increasingly more pension savers are asking where their funds are invested. Many are no longer just concerned about getting the best returns – they also want their money to be used in a way that helps society and the planet. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is currently consulting on improving the governance, strategy and reporting of occupational pension schemes on the impact of climate change.

The growth of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues – from an increasing awareness of climate change, global responsibilities and social issues to investing in companies that act responsibly and prioritise making the economy cleaner, safer and healthier – is an important consideration for many investors.

Considerations within retirement portfolios

While ESG concerns have been gaining profile in the investment world for many years, there is reason to believe that there will continue to be a big shift toward these considerations within retirement portfolios and the coming transfer of wealth to sustainability-minded Millennials.
Eight out of ten people (83%)[1] think global warming will be a serious problem for the UK if action is not taken, and there is a lack of awareness about the extent to which pension funds are working to reduce the impact of climate change. In the survey, around half (51%) say global warming is ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important to them.

Categories of criteria used to assess companies

However, there remains a lack of understanding among some savers as to how pension schemes are taking action against climate change. Three-fifths of workplace pension holders (59%) say they don’t know if schemes are taking any action; just one in seven (15%) workplace pension holders think schemes are.

ESG refers to the three categories of criteria used to assess companies when investing responsibly: ‘E’ stands for ‘environmental’ factors, such as carbon emission and water management; ’S’ stands for ‘social’ factors, such as employee welfare, diversity and inclusion; ‘G’ stands for ‘governance’ factors, such as business ethics and corruption.

Percentage of people’s wealth in their pensions

The concept of ESG investing has existed for decades but has grown enormously in popularity over the last five years. While early adopters of this practice were often driven by moral or ethical concerns, over time the financial benefits of ESG investing have become clearer, which has encouraged mass adoption.

ESG investing is becoming increasingly popular, and many investors are choosing ESG funds for their Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) and general investment portfolios. However, these accounts usually hold a lower percentage of people’s wealth than their pensions.

Greater transparency around climate impact

The survey also found a number of people don’t understand what pension schemes do with their money. Little more than two-thirds (68%) of the general population understand that pension schemes invest in a range of companies and other investments, and only one in five (22%) pension holders say they know the types of companies that their pension invests in.

Despite these knowledge gaps, when it comes to pensions there is still strong support for greater transparency around climate impact, in terms of the investments that are made and the way firms operate. Six in ten (62%) people think that pension schemes and other investors should hold those in charge of the companies they invest into account for their efforts to minimise their impact on climate change.

Behave in a way that helps tackle climate change

Two-thirds (66%) think investors have a responsibility to encourage the companies they invest in to behave in a way that helps tackle climate change. A similar proportion (65%) think that financial services firms should report on the impact the companies they invest in have on climate change.

Around seven in ten people (68%) say that pension schemes should be transparent about the extent to which they invest in a climate-aware way. Seven in ten (69%) also want financial services firms to be transparent about the impact of their own operations on climate change.

 


Source data:
[1] Research was conducted for the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) by Yonder (formally known as Populus), an independent research agency. They achieved a nationally representative online sample of 2,082 UK adults aged 18+. The fieldwork was conducted between 25-26 November 2020.
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