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Hermes Challenge ESG Investing Assumptions

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Solar panel by Marufish via Flickr

Geir Lode, Head of Global Equities at Hermes Investment Management, challenges the preconceptions of what many investors believe make an ESG stock.

There is a perception amongst some investors that to invest in a company with strong environmental credentials you need to compromise; that you’ll be confined to the small cap investment universe, excluded from multi-national businesses that generally offer stability and consistency of dividends.

Dong Energy is a Danish utility company that over the next decade is refocusing its business away from traditional fossils fuels to renewable energy. Its market capitalisation of over US$15bn allows large investors to take a meaningful participation in the transition to a low carbon economy. 

The company was founded in 2006 when Dong, a traditional oil and gas company, merged with five smaller Danish power utilities. Today the most carbon-intensive fossils fuels are seen as a non-core business segment with legacy assets being managed to maximise cash returns.

The main focus of the company is the fast-growing offshore wind farm business which includes the world’s biggest offshore wind farm that Dong is building off the coast of North-East England. Dong has a slightly different approach to its competitors in that it typically sells fifty percent of the interest in a wind farm prior to completion to crystallise the value of the project. This strategy is proving successful as it reduces the risk for equity investors whilst simultaneously increasing the visibility of the project to infrastructure investors looking for stable yields.

Dong is the largest global developer of offshore wind farms and having already doubled their installed capacity from 2012 to 2016 they aim to double capacity again by 2020. The company is committed to reducing carbon emissions by converting existing coal and gas power plants to use sustainable biomass. By 2020, the company’s target is that at least 60% of the power and heat produced at their power stations should be from sustainable biomass. The contribution from coal, oil and gas is expected to shrink significantly.

In Hermes Global Equities we rank potential and current investments by assessing the company’s financial attractiveness and ESG risk factors. For Dong, we expect the future return on capital to be higher than that of the legacy business. The company’s financial visibility is very clear through to 2020 and we see a 15 to 20 percent upside in the share price. The company has indicated that they expect to pay a dividend this year and given the high visibility of earnings we anticipate steady dividend growth thereafter. The company is also committed to maintaining their credit rating.

Investors may be surprised to consider Dong as a viable ESG name given its historical use of coal in energy production, however, we see ESG as not just investing in the green companies of today, but also those of tomorrow. Dong Energy is investing heavily in biomass and wind production and the carbon intensity of its production is expected to decline from 638g CO2/KWh to 260g CO2/KWh by 2020. Excluding companies with hydro exposure, Dong has the highest percentage of renewables in the energy mix of any European integrated utility company. The company’s corporate governance is also strong with excellent compensation transparency, a separate CEO and chairman, high board independence, and almost forty percent female representation on the board.

To achieve their ambitious targets the company must continue to demonstrate the excellent project management skills that have propelled them into their current position. There will also be risks outside of the company’s control, for example renewable energy has long relied upon government subsidies and a favourable regulatory environment. The Paris COP21 agreement last year suggests that the world is committed to the green economy, but in the face of a global slowdown or a Brexit-induced recession this resolve may be tested.

Geir Lode is Head of Global Equities at Hermes Investment Management. Lode has been on the board of 17 companies across 4 countries and, amongst other roles, was previously Chairman of Bergen Yards.

Environment

How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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home automation to go green

The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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Environment

Working From Home And How It Reduces Emissions

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Many businesses are changing their operating model to allow their employees to work from home. Aside from the personal convenience and business benefits, working from home is also great for the environment. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, if employees with the desire to work from home and compatible jobs that allowed for this were allowed to do so only half the time, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating automobile emissions from the workforce of the entire state of New York. Considering the stakes here, it is vital that we understand how exactly working from home helps us go green and how this can be applied.

Reduction of automobile emissions

Statistics by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the transportation sector is responsible for about 14% of the total Global Emissions of greenhouse gases, which is a very significant percentage. If employees work from home, then the need to travel to and from their workplace every other day as well as other business trips are reduced considerably. While this may not eliminate the emissions from the transport sector altogether, it reduces the percentage. As indicated in the example above, a move to work from home by more businesses and industries cuts down automobile emissions to as much as those from an entire state.

Reduction of energy production and consumption

According to Eurostat, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning accounted for as high as 26% of the Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU in 2014. EPA stats are also close at 25% of the total emissions. This makes energy production the single largest source of emissions. Working from home eliminates the need for large office spaces, which in turn reduces the need for electricity and heating. Similarly, the need for electrical office equipment and supplies, such as printers and computers, is also greatly reduced, which reduces the emissions from energy production in offices. Additionally, most households are now adopting green methods of energy production and implementing better ways of energy usage. The use of smart energy-efficient appliances also goes a long way in reducing the energy production and consumption levels from households. This, in turn, cuts down emissions from energy production from both the home and office fronts.

Reduced need for paper

Paper is also a huge source of emissions, considering that it is a carbon-based product. EPA stats show that carbon (IV) oxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes accounts for 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Working from home is usually an internet-based operation, which means less paper and more cloud-based services. When everything is communicated electronically, the need for office paper is reduced considerably. Moreover, the cutting down of trees for the sake of paper production reduces. All these outcomes help reduce the emissions and individual carbon footprints.

Effective recycling

While businesses make an effort to recycle it is not as effective as homeowners. Consider everything from the water you drink to office supplies and equipment. While working from home, you have greater control over your environment. This means that you can easily implement proper recycling procedures. However, at the office, that control over your personal space and environment is taken away and the effectiveness of recycling techniques is reduced. Working from home is, therefore, a great way to go green and increase the adoption of proper recycling.

Takeaway

Even though the statistics are in favor of working from home to reduce emissions, note that this is dependent on the reduction of emissions from home. If the households are not green, then the emissions are not reduced in the least. For instance, if instead of installing a VPN in the router to keep the home office safe, an employee buys a standalone server and air gaps it, the energy consumption is not reduced but increased. Therefore, it is necessary that employees working from home go green if there is to be any hope of using this method of operation to cut down on the emissions.

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