Among the more striking transformations in money management in recent decades has been the embrace of socially responsible investing, also known as sustainable capitalism. Question is, will the investor and corporate pursuit of sustainability survive the economic ravages of the pandemic?
To be sure, any focus on measures to promote sustainability has been overtaken by pandemic concerns. Yet a combination of factors, ranging from the strong commitment to sustainability from the digital companies gaining market share during the lockdown to rising concerns about worker safety and treatment in tough times, strongly suggests that the embrace of sustainability by investors and managements will strengthen once the economy’s underlying dynamism is restored. That’s the message from the stock market.
A number of different terms and metrics have evolved for capturing corporate behavior and encouraging investor choices when it comes to sustainability. Two of the best-known classifications are environmental, social and governance (ESG)) and corporate social responsibility (CSR). The former tends to emphasize global climate change and boardroom behavior. The latter is more concerned with signs of a healthy workplace, ethical business practices and investments in local communities. Still, the overlap between the classifications and firms is more important than any differences in emphasis.
In “Corporate Immunity to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” four economists tap into data from over 6,000 firms across 56 economies to evaluate the connection between corporate characteristics and stock price reactions to COVID-19. Among their findings is that the pandemic-induced drop in stock prices was milder among firms that invested in corporate social responsibility.
““These results are consistent with the view that investments in corporate social responsibility build trust with stakeholders, so that workers, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders are more willing to make adjustments to support the business in response to adverse shocks.”
Similarly, a number of the main ESG index funds have done relatively well during the first quarter of 2020.
The evidence is increasingly compelling that the financial rewards for investing with ESG and CSR values are well worth the effort. Making money and embracing sustainability may well be two sides of the same coin once the economic impact of the pandemic fades.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace”; commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.