There's a healthy contingent of investors who think the economic crisis has created an environment ripe for considering fundamentally new approaches to business. That includes pushing companies to take more seriously the idea of adopting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices.
One related idea is that stock exchanges have a role to play here by helping investors assess which companies are engaging in good governance and other practices and providing incentives to businesses both to adopt this approach and to disclose specific metrics about it. In other words, turning themselves into sustainable stock exchanges.
That, and related issues, were explored earlier this week at a meeting held at the UN. Hosted by the UN Principles for Responsible Investment initiative, among other groups, the agenda was all about the potential role of global stock exchanges in encouraging responsible long-term investing and promoting ESG considerations by, for example, mandating that companies disclose their ESG practices. (That is, their carbon footprint, say, or labor policies).
According to Greenbiz writer Marc Gunther, the U.S. is pretty much a laggard in this regard. In fact, it seems that exchanges in emerging markets are well ahead of developed countries. For example, according to Gunther, Egypt of all places actually de-listed about 750 companies because they didn't meet requisite good-governance requirements. The Instanbul exchange has an index of companies practicing good governance.
In the U.S. the most notable development is that, a few months ago, Bloomberg launched an ESG data service, with information on about 3,000 companies. So far, most companies haven't divulged data that's particularly thorough, however.
But let's face it: There's not going to be a major groundswell of support for this approach unless someone can prove a definitive connection between good ESG practices and bottom line results. Advocates say there is one. In fact, one underpinning of ESG is the idea that firms with good practices are likely to create more sustainable long-term value. But, as far as I can tell, no one has really come up with a solid connection.
That' s not to say there isn't one. I suspect there is. And, when we see it, the ESG approach--and sustainable stock exchanges--will become a lot more sustainable.