Sustainable investors look for profits in fuzzy data

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FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows power-generating windmill turbines in a wind farm in Graincourt-les-havrincourt

By Ross Kerber and Simon Jessop

(Reuters) – Sustainability-focused investors believe a little effort can go a long way toward finding profitable opportunities buried in incomplete corporate environmental or social impact filings.

That is according to several speakers on a panel at  the  Reuters Next conference, who described how they choose sustainable investments and work with executives at a time when there are few standard requirements for how major U.S. and European companies should detail carbon emissions disclosures or workforce demographics.

Eoin Murray, head of investment at Federated Hermes, said the disparate reports from many companies give portfolio managers the chance to dig deeper.

“As an active manager, there’s a part of me which doesn’t mind that some of the data doesn’t entirely line up, because it means the rewards go to those that do their homework properly and unearth the real gems,” Murray said.

Mary Jane McQuillen, a managing director for ClearBridge Investments, said while some companies are eager to become more sustainable, others are defensive and don’t want to be burdened by yet another topic of investor interest.

A third group, McQuillen said, admits there is much about sustainable reporting they don’t know, and is seeking input from their shareholders.

“They say, ‘we really don’t know what the issues are. If you can help us as an owner, and with your years of experience as an investor in understanding how these issues may apply to my industry, as well as to my particular company, that would be super helpful,” she said.

U.S. regulators are in the process of developing guidance for how companies should spell out things like emissions, and rules in Europe are just coming into place.

At the U.N. climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, global leaders agreed to do more to curb carbon emissions and took other steps toward setting up global carbon markets and an international body to set sustainability reporting standards.

Julie Gorte, senior vice president at Impax Asset Management, said absent complete corporate reporting, investors can still learn a great deal about companies’ environmental, social or governance impact through government filings.

“For companies the watchword is, look, people are going to find out stuff about you, whether you tell them or not. If you want them to know what the truth is, tell them,” Gorte said.

To watch the Reuters Next conference please register here https://reutersevents.com/events/next/

(Reporting by Ross Kerber and by Simon Jessop; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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