ShareAction, a responsible investment charity, is leading a Europe-wide team of think-tanks, campaign groups, NGOs, trade unions and faith groups to push sustainable and responsible investment in the continent. ShareAction will launch the never-before-seen collaboration, dubbed the European Responsible Investment Network (ERIN), at its two-day conference in Berlin today and tomorrow. Over 140 delegates are expected to attend the event at the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
The network is made up of 25 organisations from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the UK. Members range from Dutch sustainable investment associations and Italian ethical banking groups to NGOs that address Norway’s sovereign wealth fund’s investment practices.
Friederike Hanisch, European Outreach Officer at ShareAction, who has been building the network over the past year, said: “The level of interest in the network is a testament to the variety of ways in which Responsible Investment can be used to have a positive impact. We have a range of projects lined up, and we are looking forward to using this collaborative approach to secure change in investment practices across Europe, and at a policy level.”
Catherine Howarth, Chief Executive of ShareAction, hopes the network will help foster a European investment industry that is a global leader in Responsible Investment.
She said: “The Responsible Investment landscape has changed dramatically in the last ten years, but much remains to be done to embed sustainable thinking and practice in the strategies of European pension funds and other large investors. Civil society has a critical role to play in driving progress. We are both proud and excited to be playing a role in uniting civil society to advance Responsible Investment in Europe. Together these groups have the potential to make Europe a global leader in the field.”
Vicky van Heck, Sustainability Manager at VBDO, the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development, said: “In the past few years the Netherlands has become a frontrunner on sustainability in Europe. We see the ERIN network as an opportunity to strengthen and expand these practices to make Europe a global leader in Responsible Investment, since so many organizations from different countries are involved.”
The Berlin conference will have a particular focus on the low carbon transition. Many network members are focused on achieving the goal set out at the Paris Agreement in December 2015, to limit a rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees, with ambition for 1.5. The roles of private finance and investor engagement have been widely recognised as crucial to achieving this target. With climate finance experts such as 2°Investing Initiative and Carbon Tracker among its members, the ERIN network hopes that a collaborative approach will strengthen efforts to achieve 1.5 to 2-degree-compliant investing across Europe.
Anthony Hobley, CEO of Carbon Tracker, said: “Two degree scenarios need to become the new normal for how companies report on their future business strategy. Investors who care about shareholder value cannot ignore climate risk any longer.”
Thomas Meinert Larsen, spokesperson for AnsvarligFremtid, a campaign to direct Danish pension funds away from investments in fossil fuels, said: “We hope that the network will encourage pension funds to divest from projects that are reliant on morally unacceptable and financially risky fossil fuel extraction, such as coal, tar sands, and Arctic and deep sea drilling, which are not in line with the political goal of the Paris Climate Agreement.”
Other network members focus on social and governance issues. Trade unions hope to use the network to advance workers’ rights through investor engagement. German Protestant development organisation Brot für die Welt works to strengthen faith-based investors’ awareness of sustainable investment.
Alexander el Alaoui, policy advisor for Brot für die Welt, said: “Investing responsibly is not only an ethical obligation but a social necessity. In times of increasing social disparity, private and institutional investors alike must place social justice at the centre of their investment decisions. Faith investors, in particular, have a remit to invest in line with their mission, and this network will help them strengthen their voice and impact.”
Asking questions at Annual General Meetings (AGMs) has proven to be an immensely successful tool for company engagement both in the UK and across Europe. Through its AGM Army of individuals who attend UK AGMs, ShareAction has developed expertise in this kind of approach. ERIN will enable members to share expertise and best practice on AGM activism in their own countries, and also help them access proxy shares for attending general meetings in other countries.
Andrea Baranes from the Fondazione Culturale Responsabilità Etica, said: “We’ve been involved in active shareholding for several years, buying shares of big Italian corporations to intervene at AGMs and build a dialogue with the companies. We believe that a cross-European approach is fundamental. The European Responsible Investment Network can have a real impact in this area, involving as many shareholders as possible, helping organisations to share experiences and best practice and ultimately have a stronger impact.”