Changing Glasses – Looking at the Second Wave of SRI

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Stockholm (NordSIP) – At the helm of the board of the Swedish Sustainable Investment Forum (Swesif) sits Anita Lindberg, ESG Specialist at Alfred Berg. NordSIP sat down with her for a short interview to find out more about her experience both at Swesif and in her day job. Lindberg shared thoughts about what she believes matters most now and how she has seen sustainable investing evolve in the recent past.

Anita Lindberg, Alfred Berg

Founded in 2003, Swesif counts about 90 members, mostly asset managers and asset owners. The goal of the organisation is to support sustainable investment practices by increasing the level of relevant knowledge among its members, building a network, contributing to relevant statistics and participating in public debate, among other things. To fulfill these ambitious goals, Swesif offers regular events to its members such as seminars or round-tables for example. The organisation has also developed Hållbarhetsprofilen, a template to be filled by fund managers, which aims to simplify the communication about a fund’s sustainability strategy. It was an attempt at setting a level of standardisation in this highly fragmented segment of the fund management industry. This initiative started in 2013 already, and is now also reflected in the fund industry’s self-regulation that followed new legislation last year.

Promotion

At Swesif, Lindberg feels very much at home. Indeed, she has been part of the organisation for many years. While holding an MSc in Biology with a specialisation related to the environment, Lindberg’s journey into the financial industry started at Swedish-based responsible investment consultant and data provider GES. She moved on to Swedbank Robur as SRI analyst in 2003, which coincides with the time Swesif was founded. In 2011, Lindberg moved to local communication consultant Hallvarsson & Halvarsson during which time stayed active at Swesif. After four years, in December 2015 she joined Alfred Berg in her current position.

Being part of Swesif practically from the start, Lindberg can appreciate the journey the industry has performed, especially in the past few years. “In the wake of the Paris agreement, and with other significant milestones such as the establishment of the SDGs, something happened, politically, on the investors’ and the companies’ side,” says Lindberg. “On the investment side, the goals have become much more specific and geared towards addressing the issues we see arising in the future. Before, we were circulating around a set of more high-level norms and conventions such as the Global Compact – sometimes difficult to relate to for investment professionals and investors.  Sustainable investments are moving from a matter of ethics and alignment with international norms, into something more concrete and fundamental.”

Another evolution Lindberg points out is the shift between the type of actors behind SRI. “Before, sustainability was typically a matter for value-based organisations and individuals. Now, most companies are concerned. In the past, equity investments were the only way to integrate sustainable practices. Today, we start to see a rapid development in other asset classes, and different initiatives to finance a sustainable future, while gaining a return. Green bonds are one example of sustainable financing. Impact investments are gaining ground. There is a sense of urgency, and increasing amounts of capital are allocated there, albeit from low levels.”

“Companies that can show what positive impact they can deliver are in the limelight. Before, 95 percent of ESG analysis was about the level of ESG structure in the companies, policies, management systems and such. Now, the focus is shifting towards the level of sustainable business integration.   What’s the company’s business model and products and its ability to create positive impact?  It is a different pair of glasses.”

Concretely, Lindberg gives us the example of one company she has analysed and been impressed with. “BillerudKorsnäs is a Swedish packaging manufacturer. It stems from a 19th century saw mill and operates in a very mature industry, but it is at the same time amongst the most innovative and engaged companies in terms of sustainable business development. The company works strategically to replace plastic with fibre-based materials. Imagine the potential, both from an impact and growth perspective. What makes it possible to find these types of opportunities is that we put the right pair of glasses on, and think out of the box.”

Lindberg has two roles at Alfred Berg. First, she co-manages a sustainability fund which strategy is based on a broad thematic to invest in companies related to energy, water, or social welfare for example. Her second mission is to drive sustainability at Alfred Berg more broadly. She works on developing the notion of ESG and SRI in the whole company. “For example, I worked on modifying some of the traditional fixed income funds, to integrate ESG as a credit risk dimension and also looking into green bonds,” she explains. Her work is made somewhat easier by the integration of Alfred Berg into the BNP Paribas Group. “This gives us the opportunity to propose a wider and attractive product assortment. BNP Asset Management also offers best-in-class funds and a family of thematic sustainability funds under the Parvest brand. Some thematic funds, like the Aqua fund, have gained a lot of interest on the Swedish market, which I see as a sign of the impact trend and the second wave of sustainable investments,” Lindberg says.

Photo by Alizee Marchand, Pexels