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5 Drivers Behind the Sustainable Investing Shift

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5 Drivers Behind the Sustainable Investing Shift

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Against all odds, sustainable investing in the U.S. smashed records in 2020.

Estimated net flows reached $20.9 billion in the first six months alone—that’s nearly equal to the amount of new money invested in all of 2019.

What is driving the shift to sustainable investing? This visual dashboard from Raconteur explains five key drivers, from generational shifts to investors’ preferred strategies.

DRIVER #1:

Millennial Investors and Personal Beliefs

Interest in sustainable investing is booming across the general population. However, there’s a clear generational trend, as well.

While the portion of each group that is “very interested” in sustainable investing has shot up since 2015, this share is significantly higher for millennials.

YearGeneral PopulationMillennials
201519%28%
201723%38%
201949%70%

Another correlated trend emerges with this.

These days, investors are more likely to follow their conscience. Acccording to a recent report by Schroders, the majority of investors will not budge on investing against their beliefs, even if returns were theoretically higher.

 Level of Investment Knowledge
Would you invest against your personal beliefs?BeginnerIntermediateExpert
Yes, if returns are higher18%20%29%
No, I would not invest against my beliefs.82%80%71%
DRIVER #2:

Top Themes of Interest

Powered by these personal beliefs, which categories are attracting investors? It turns out many investors are very interested in including environment-related themes into their portfolios:

  • Plastic reduction: 46%
  • Climate change: 46%
  • Community development: 42%
  • Circular economy: 39%
  • Sustainable Development Goals: 36%
  • Multicultural diversity: 30%
  • Gender diversity: 30%
  • Faith-based values: 24%

However, these aren’t the only considerations. Other themes that fit into broader ESG categories such as gender diversity or faith-based values make an appearance, too.

DRIVER #3:

Which Investor Groups are Driving Interest?

Now, we turn our attention to the specific groups that are responsible for the growing momentum towards sustainable investing. This may be surprising to some, but it is institutional investors that are leading the pack by far:

GroupShare of Group
Institutional investors85%
Institutional consultants39%
Internal stakeholders30%
High net worth (HNW) investors19%
Politicians or regulators13%
Industry trade bodies6%

This also disproves a common myth that millennials are the only ones interested in the sector. Institutional investors equally want to see a double bottom line: an ROI on their money, while also making the world a more sustainable place.

DRIVER #4:

Sources of Information

So where are institutional investors sourcing their information around sustainable investing? Sharing their ideas in like-minded communities, such as webinars and conferences emerged as the preference for nearly two-thirds of those surveyed in this group.

But how do investors know that their investment is truly sustainable? For this, 34% of global investors feel that third-party labels from independent organizations help lend credibility, and confirm that the chosen investment in question is indeed carried out in a responsible manner.

As more and more institutional investors are digital natives, a significant share of them are also beginning to use social media to influence their decision-making process—and some even rely on it as their key source of research.

DRIVER #5:

Sustainable Investing Strategies

We’ve left the best for last—armed with this knowledge and confidence, which sustainable investing strategies are the most attractive? Here’s how organizations are approaching ESG:

  • Sustainability integration: 52%
  • Negative screening: 50%
  • Shareholder engagement: 31%
  • Impact investing: 19%
  • Positive screening: 12%
  • Thematic investing: 5%

While negative screening—avoiding investments in “sin” stocks such as tobacco or fossil fuels—is still a popular strategy, actively integrating sustainability into one’s portfolio is emerging more front and center.

The Overall Trend of Sustainable Investing

The data makes clear that institutional investors are the main driving forces behind sustainable investment for the time being. But as millennials accumulate wealth, their values may naturally lead them towards more sustainable investment.

Another important point to note is that sustainable investing has been resilient to change. In fact, despite the COVID-induced stock selloff in early 2020, ESG leaders exceeded expectations.

While these drivers evolve over time, it’s clear that sustainable investing is more than having its moment in the spotlight—it’s here to stay.

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Energy

Visualizing the Power Consumption of Bitcoin Mining

Bitcoin mining requires significant amounts of energy, but what does this consumption look like when compared to countries and companies?

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Visualizing the Power Consumption of Bitcoin Mining

Cryptocurrencies have been some of the most talked-about assets in recent months, with bitcoin and ether prices reaching record highs. These gains were driven by a flurry of announcements, including increased adoption by businesses and institutions.

Lesser known, however, is just how much electricity is required to power the Bitcoin network. To put this into perspective, we’ve used data from the University of Cambridge’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI) to compare Bitcoin’s power consumption with a variety of countries and companies.

Why Does Bitcoin Mining Require So Much Power?

When people mine bitcoins, what they’re really doing is updating the ledger of Bitcoin transactions, also known as the blockchain. This requires them to solve numerical puzzles which have a 64-digit hexadecimal solution known as a hash.

Miners may be rewarded with bitcoins, but only if they arrive at the solution before others. It is for this reason that Bitcoin mining facilities—warehouses filled with computers—have been popping up around the world.

These facilities enable miners to scale up their hashrate, also known as the number of hashes produced each second. A higher hashrate requires greater amounts of electricity, and in some cases can even overload local infrastructure.

Putting Bitcoin’s Power Consumption Into Perspective

On March 18, 2021, the annual power consumption of the Bitcoin network was estimated to be 129 terawatt-hours (TWh). Here’s how this number compares to a selection of countries, companies, and more.

NamePopulation Annual Electricity Consumption (TWh)
China1,443M6,543
United States330.2M3,989
All of the world’s data centers-205
State of New York19.3M161
Bitcoin network -129 
Norway5.4M124
Bangladesh165.7M70
Google-12
Facebook-5
Walt Disney World Resort (Florida)-1

Note: A terawatt hour (TWh) is a measure of electricity that represents 1 trillion watts sustained for one hour.
Source: Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, Science Mag, New York ISO, Forbes, Facebook, Reedy Creek Improvement District, Worldometer

If Bitcoin were a country, it would rank 29th out of a theoretical 196, narrowly exceeding Norway’s consumption of 124 TWh. When compared to larger countries like the U.S. (3,989 TWh) and China (6,543 TWh), the cryptocurrency’s energy consumption is relatively light.

For further comparison, the Bitcoin network consumes 1,708% more electricity than Google, but 39% less than all of the world’s data centers—together, these represent over 2 trillion gigabytes of storage.

Where Does This Energy Come From?

In a 2020 report by the University of Cambridge, researchers found that 76% of cryptominers rely on some degree of renewable energy to power their operations. There’s still room for improvement, though, as renewables account for just 39% of cryptomining’s total energy consumption.

Here’s the share of cryptominers that use each energy type vary across four global regions.

Energy SourceAsia-PacificEuropeLatin America
and the Caribbean
North America
Hydroelectric65%60%67%61%
Natural gas38%33%17%44%
Coal65%2%0%28%
Wind23%7%0%22%
Oil12%7%33%22%
Nuclear12%7%0%22%
Solar12%13%17%17%
Geothermal8%0%0%6%

Source: University of Cambridge
Editor’s note: Numbers in each column are not meant to add to 100%

Hydroelectric energy is the most common source globally, and it gets used by at least 60% of cryptominers across all four regions. Other types of clean energy such as wind and solar appear to be less popular.

Coal energy plays a significant role in the Asia-Pacific region, and was the only source to match hydroelectricity in terms of usage. This can be largely attributed to China, which is currently the world’s largest consumer of coal.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge noted that they weren’t surprised by these findings, as the Chinese government’s strategy to ensure energy self-sufficiency has led to an oversupply of both hydroelectric and coal power plants.

Towards a Greener Crypto Future

As cryptocurrencies move further into the mainstream, it’s likely that governments and other regulators will turn their attention to the industry’s carbon footprint. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however.

Mike Colyer, CEO of Foundry, a blockchain financing provider, believes that cryptomining can support the global transition to renewable energy. More specifically, he believes that clustering cryptomining facilities near renewable energy projects can mitigate a common issue: an oversupply of electricity.

“It allows for a faster payback on solar projects or wind projects… because they would [otherwise] produce too much energy for the grid in that area”
– Mike Colyer, CEO, Foundry

This type of thinking appears to be taking hold in China as well. In April 2020, Ya’an, a city located in China’s Sichuan province, issued a public guidance encouraging blockchain firms to take advantage of its excess hydroelectricity.

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Green

UN Sustainable Development Goals: How Companies Stack Up

Are companies making progress in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals? This tracker shows how companies are measuring up.

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Sustainable Development Goals

The UN SDGs: How Companies Stack Up

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing witnessed a breakthrough year in 2020 with the most fund inflows on record.

Importantly, for companies that are judged according to ESG metrics, one way to track their progress is through their alignment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Established in 2012, the UN SDGs are a blueprint for creating a more sustainable future by 2030 that have been adopted by 193 countries worldwide.

As investors and stakeholders pay closer attention to sustainability concerns, this graphic from MSCI breaks down how companies stack up according to their alignment to the UN SDGs.

How Were Companies Measured?

To track companies net contribution to the UN SDGs, companies were scored by their positive or negative contribution to each of the 17 goals.

The 17 UN SDGs are designed to achieve three primary objectives by 2030:

  • Protect the planet
  • End poverty
  • Create prosperity and peace for all

Specifically, the framework centers on a discussion paper that was developed in partnership with the OECD in 2018. Company policies, operations, products and services, and practices are analyzed according to reported and publicly available information.

Tracking the Alignment of Companies

Across a universe of 8,550 companies in the MSCI All Country World Index, constituents were measured from strongly aligned to strongly misaligned to the UN SDGs.

Sustainable
Development Goal
Strongly
Aligned
AlignedMisalignedStrongly
Misaligned
1No Poverty089215532
2Zero Hunger24234300
3Good Health and Well-being031514129
4Quality Education831520
5Gender Equality0109290
6Clean Water and Sanitation173253610
7Affordable and Clean Energy43639109587
8Decent Work and Economic Growth2512695217
9Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure688441379
10Reduced Inequality082812731
11Sustainable Cities and Communities0016719
12Responsible Consumption and Production115855150598
13Climate Action2759495587
14Life Below Water03615192
15Life on Land0012817
16Peace and Justice Strong Institutions013524127
17Partnerships to Achieve the Goal040115222

Source: MSCI ESG Research LLC as of August 11, 2020

Broadly speaking, companies fell mostly in the middle—roughly 38% were aligned while almost 55% were misaligned or neutral. Meanwhile, just 0.2% of companies were strongly aligned to the UN SDGs.

Overall, one of the most strongly aligned goals was Responsible Production and Consumption, with 115 companies meeting this criteria. Specifically, these include companies that are building sustainable infrastructure, energy efficiency, or creating green jobs.

Interestingly, the worst performing goal was also Responsible Production and Consumption, with over five times as many companies (598) strongly misaligned. Along with this goal, both Climate Action and Affordable and Clean Energy each had over 500 companies strongly misaligned.

UN SDGs: A Sector Focus

Unsurprisingly, SDG-alignment varied widely according to company sectors.

Educational companies, for instance, represented the highest level of alignment to Gender Equality. Meanwhile, 18% of 425 utilities companies assessed ended up aligning with Clean and Affordable Energy goals.

As one would expect, the energy sector lagged behind. In 2020, fossil fuels were a key source of revenue for 91% of the companies in the energy business. In fact, just three companies derived over 50% of their revenues from green alternatives: REX American Resources, Renewable Energy Group, and Verbio.

A Call to Action?

Despite the growing wave of interest in ESG investing, the reality is that progress to meet the UN SDGs has been slower going than expected.

However, a greater number of individuals, stakeholders, and activists are sounding the alarm. Today, over 3,000 signatories representing trillions in assets under management have committed to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment, which has established six key actions for ESG investing. Now, many companies are required to report their ESG disclosures in Europe.

Along with these key markers of progress, investors can move the dial by tracking a company’s alignment to sustainable development goals.

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