Stockholm (NordSIP) – Less than a week into her position as Impact Director at Summa Equity, Emelie Norling seems already remarkably at ease in her new office. “It is so refreshing to be in an environment where impact is at the core and everyone gets sustainability,” she says. “Here, it is not a question of transforming an existing business to make it more sustainable. Summa has been purpose-driven from the very start, aiming for positive impact by addressing some of our times’ big social and environmental challenges.”
Zooming in on PE
Norling joins Summa Equity after a couple of intense years as Head of Responsible Investment at Swedish occupational insurer Afa Försäkring. “I truly appreciate my time at Afa as it has given me many valuable insights into an asset owner’s investment reality,” she comments. According to Norling, working with a broadly diversified portfolio invested in both public and private markets, equities, fixed income, and real assets can be challenging for a responsible investor. The regulatory framework, too, is quite demanding for insurers, making it often difficult to align financial and sustainability requirements fully. “Given the constraints, politicians cannot expect asset owners to solve societal problems at scale, the real economy also needs to be regulated,” she reflects.
It is all the more exciting for Norling to plunge head-on into private markets. “To be honest, I was getting a little frustrated with the incremental effect of our engagement efforts with listed companies,” she admits. “I still believe it is a meaningful endeavour, especially when you engage in collaboration with other investors, for example, through initiatives like Climate Action 100+, yet it is slow, and the effect is limited. In private markets, the positive impact can be much more immediate and substantial.”
Connecting the dots
Norling also sounds enthusiastic about Summa’s partnership with the International Foundation for Valuing Impacts to advance Impact-Weighted Accounting (IWA) for portfolio companies. Given her academic background, it is hardly surprising that she looks forward to working with some of the leading researchers from Harvard Business School involved in the project. “In a previous life, I was pursuing a PhD in the field of sustainable development and project financing at Erasmus University in Rotterdam,” says Norling. “One of the reasons I opted out to join the rank of practitioners was the disconnect that I felt between academia and the real world,” she recalls.
The IWA project is, for Norling, a perfect example that it is possible to work together. “As more practitioners commit to and invest in the IWA methodology, there will continue to be improvements in data availability, measurement standards, industry-specific frameworks, and impact valuation infrastructure,” she believes. “We need each other, academics and practitioners,” she insists.
The theory (and practice) of change
Summa is known to invest in companies positioned to benefit from three megatrends: resource efficiency, changing demographics, and tech-enabled transformation. This means three different deal streams and industries with distinctive characteristics. A key task that Norling has been entrusted with is to harmonise and homogenise the sustainability work done across the three teams. “We need to be able to see and measure everything on a fund level,” she says. “The work that the teams are doing to develop a ‘Theory of Change’ for each of the subthemes is impressive. Now we need to synchronise and combine these into a common framework.”
What Norling is even more eager to do, however, is to work directly with the portfolio companies, helping them to accelerate their impact potential. “I believe I have a fair chance of getting to know each of our investments well,” she says. “Unlike the enormous portfolios with thousands of holdings I’m used to previously, here I have the luxury to focus on less than twenty companies. I want to get to know their individual impact stories and find out the best way to support them in their quest for solving a global challenge,” concludes Norling.