As an increasing number of investors are paying attention to the outcomes of their investments, we are seeing more intense media scrutiny on corporate ESG-related claims. It is unfortunate that a few notable scandals in recent years have caused mistrust and concern among investors around the accuracy of environmental, social or governance (ESG) claims.
The Responsible Investment Association found that concern about greenwashing is the biggest obstacle to the growth of responsible investment (RI). It is crucial that industry actors take steps to be as clear and accurate as possible in their ESG claims. An important question to consider is “how can we build trust?”
Regulatory authorities around the world have taken action to curb concerns around greenwashing and supervise ESG-related claims.
In early 2022, the Canadian Securities Administration (CSA) published a staff notice outlining their ESG disclosure expectations for investment funds. It includes expectations on how funds present their ESG approaches in advertising.
While regulators are addressing greenwashing from a policy perspective, industry players and fund managers also have an important role to play. They can be leaders in maintaining the public’s trust on ESG claims and facilitate clear communication.
This is why it is essential to raise awareness about the public’s concern around greenwashing among anyone involved with the promotion of responsible investment. It is a vital step in ensuring authenticity and avoiding risks.
Responsible investment training courses for industry professionals, and advisors in particular, are multiplying. It is crucial not to forget about communications and marketing professionals, and anyone making public-facing claims while promoting RI. Awareness about the risk of the perception of greenwashing and RI knowledge should be integrated into the entire business line to ensure consistent and accurate ESG communications.
An ESG-related Guide for Communicators
To address this gap, Desjardins has developed a guide to help teams not specializing in RI address the do’s and don’ts of ESG-related communications. The recommendations include the following tips for communicators:
1. Ask questions
When creating communications about RI, put yourself in the shoes of an investor who may question the claims. Can the claims be substantiated? Do they reflect current policies? Could the claim be interpreted as exaggerated or misleading?
2. Manage expectations
While we are often proud of the outcomes our RI products can have on environmental, social or governance issues, we must avoid over-promising or over-selling what they actually achieve. Exaggeration or puffery leads to mistrust. When in doubt, limit claims to information you can verify.
3. Use simple, understandable language
Retail investors rely on us as RI experts to give them the information they need to make informed decisions. They may not have the specialized language or know all the terminology that we do, so keeping language simple and understandable will help ensure the message is not misinterpreted or misleading.
Cite sources whenever possible. For example, when talking about climate data, cite the source, as there are different methodologies for calculating the data. This demonstrates transparency to investors and gives them the tools to verify the information and avoid confusion.
5. Be consistent
To promote industry progress and best practices, teams should be made aware of how to describe investment outcomes. It keeps all communications consistent across the organization and avoids confusion. This training may include the following directions:
– Document outcomes when they can be supported by evidence.
– Avoid attributing outcomes to individual investors.
– Use the term ‘impact,’ in line with industry methodological best practice.
The feedback we received confirmed the need to equip teams with ESG communication tools. We continue to educate employees and our partner advertising agencies so they are better equipped to prevent situations of perceived greenwashing. Ongoing internal dialogue also helps keep everyone up to date about best practices and any new risks or developments.
Firms that are innovative and proactive about ESG-related communications and those target teams not usually involved in RI training can ensure their investors are confident about participating in RI. This is essential for the continued growth of an industry with significant potential for positive outcomes on the planet and society.