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Investors Assess Their Climate Risks

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Greenhouse gas emissions from the coal-fired cogeneration Hanasaari B power plant at sunset in Helsinki, Finland, March 9, 2013 (Photo by Fintrvlr) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

OAKLAND, California, October 20, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Investors are being put on notice that some mutual funds and exchange traded funds labeled “sustainable,” “ecology,” “green” or “integrity” may actually have very high carbon footprints.

Now, a free software tool that empowers investors to track the carbon pollution that companies embedded in their funds are emitting has expanded its analysis to cover funds worth US$11 trillion.

FossilFreeFunds.org, a website created by the environmental advocacy nonprofit As You Sow, has added carbon footprinting of over $11 trillion in global mutual funds and ETFs to the site – the largest-ever analysis of this kind.

Fossil fuel investments carry real financial risks,” says FossilFreeFunds.org on its site. Their analysis covers more than 8,500 global mutual funds, including 3,000 of the most commonly-held funds in U.S. retirement plans, so that all investors can be aware of the climate risk in their retirement accounts, with financial data provided by Morningstar.

In August, Morningstar introduced a Sustainability Rating for Funds that offers an objective way to evaluate how investments are meeting environmental, social, and governance challenges, helping investors put their money where their values are.

Transparency leads to transformation,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “Measuring a company’s carbon emissions is a critical way to understand the specific climate risk of your investments.

We have aggregated this data for all of the companies embedded in each of the 8,500 most-held global mutual funds and ETFs,” said Behar. “This tool enables every investor to answer the question, ‘Am I investing in my own destruction or the clean energy future?

The analysis uses data from global sustainability solutions provider South Pole Group, and yourSRI.com, a carbon data analyst and reporting solution provider for responsible investments.

Intially, the analysis will cover funds in Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and the United States. The developers plan to expand to include every fund in every exchange around the world.

Institutional investors such as California’s CalPERS and Sweden’s AP4 have embraced carbon footprinting as a way to protect their assets from climate risk.

Major index providers are increasingly offering low-carbon options that incorporate a footprinting analysis.

Traditional fossil-free investment approaches avoid companies with reserves of coal, oil, and gas that represent potential future emissions.

Carbon footprinting turns the focus to current greenhouse gas emissions, helping reveal businesses that operate with higher and lower footprints than their industry peers.

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ConocoPhillips oil refinery, Rodeo, California, December 11, 2012 (Photo by ah zut) Creative Commons license via Flickr

As You Sow explains that, “Carbon footprinting a mutual fund means accounting for the quantification and management of greenhouse gases. It is the first step towards understanding an investor’s impact on climate change.

A carbon footprint is calculated by measuring and/or estimating the quantities and assessing the sources of various greenhouse gas emissions that can be directly or indirectly attributed to the activities of the underlying holdings.

 “Decarbonizing” a portfolio involves investing in companies that have lower carbon footprints than their peers.

The FossilFreeFunds.org platform allows investors to see real scores that are updated every month with Morningstar’s latest holdings data.

A few examples from the analysis:

  • Given that BlackRock recently published a major report on portfolio climate risk, it may be a surprise that the BlackRock Basic Value Fund’s (MABAX) has a carbon footprint 170 percent higher than its benchmark, the Russell 1000 Value Index.
  • Dimensional Social Core Equity (DSCLX) has 85 percent more carbon than the MSCI All World Index, with 13 percent of the portfolio made up of fossil fuel companies including Shell, BP, and tar sands giant Suncor.
  • The State Street SPDR S&P 500 Fossil Fuel Reserves Free ETF (SPYX) holds 40 fossil fuel companies, including companies with reserves like Phillips66, Valero, and Marathon; coal fired utilities Duke Energy and Southern Company, and oil field services leader Halliburton.

Having funds with smaller footprints is one way to avoid climate risk,” said Andrew Montes, director of digital strategies at As You Sow. “It also actively rewards companies that have made positive decisions to lower the climate impact of their operations.

Investor demand will drive fund managers to drop companies with high carbon footprints and include those companies that are shifting to the clean energy economy,” explained Montes.

By providing a way to examine carbon demand and consider the value chain when measuring climate impact, the data can help investors large and small reconcile their investing with their values.


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