We see climate change as both an urgent challenge and a unique opportunity to build a better future. Yet we are under no illusions about the scale of the task before us.
The transition to a sustainable, “net zero” carbon economy will be a complex process. It necessitates profound changes in how countries adjust policy, how businesses are run and how people live their lives. It will also require greater collaboration across nations and industries as well as trillions of dollars of capital to be re-directed to green technology.
Pictet aims to contribute to tackling climate change through a set of clear business and investment objectives and transparent reporting. We will ensure that our investment decisions and solutions have a positive impact, drive decarbonisation and exclude firms unwilling to transform.
These commitments are integral to our Vision 2025 for sustainability and responsible investment which articulates three ambitions:
- To significantly reduce the environmental impact of our activities and investments
- To fully integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and active ownership into all investment processes
- To be a leading provider of responsible investment products and solutions
Reducing the carbon footprint of our operations and our own investments
We believe that companies are duty bound to advance the objective of tackling climate change on their own, regardless of any legal or regulatory requirements to do so.
In managing our own business activities, we are taking every step possible to cut our carbon footprint, employing the most advanced building technology, reviewing each aspect of our operations and steadily cutting the greenhouse gas emissions of our infrastructure and employee mobility. This has led to a reduction of CO2 emissions per employee of 60% since 2007, 20% better than the 40% target we had set for 2020. We have been offsetting emissions that we cannot avoid since 2014 and are currently working on absolute reduction targets for 2025. You can find more information on our environmental stewardship here.
Furthermore, in February 2020, we announced the decision to eliminate the balance sheet exposure of the Pictet Group to fossil fuel producers and extractors (oil and gas, and thermal coal)1. Being a first mover on this topic was not without challenges. There was no blueprint in the market to help guide our implementation.
Since the end of 2020 our balance sheet is effectively carbon free. This was achieved by selling more than CHF 250 million of treasury positions. We also no longer use our balance sheet to seed investment strategies with fossil fuel producers and extractors and have never offered commercial loans to any such organisations. In order to ensure continued compliance with this commitment, we use data from a recognized external provider to update the list of excluded companies on a semi-annual basis. We also conduct regular spot checks to ensure data integrity.
Offering innovative investment solutions
Irrespective of what we are doing to reduce the environmental impact of our own operations and investments, we know our biggest impact relates to how we actively manage our clients’ assets and the commitments we make in this regard.
To better understand and positively influence our overall impact as a firm, we have endorsed the Task Force for Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). We use it to strengthen our governance, strategy, and risk management, to measure climate related risks and to assess green investment opportunities. In the same spirit, we participated in the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment’s Paris Agreement Capital Transition Assessment (PACTA) pilot exercise in 2020 and are in the process of setting shorter term science-based targets where possible.
Pictet is also a signatory to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment since 2007 and, more recently, to the UN Principles for Responsible Banking which commit us to “align our business strategy to be consistent with and contribute to individuals’ needs and society’s goals, as expressed in the SDGs, the Paris Climate Agreement and other relevant national and regional frameworks.”
In Switzerland we have also supported the Swiss CEO4Climate initiative, which calls on the Swiss government to take more meaningful legislative action in support of achieving the Paris Agreement goals.
We strongly stand behind these commitments. Our close monitoring of the actions being undertaken by the companies we invest in makes us confident that “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved by 2050. As active managers, our role is to understand how companies and countries will transition, to track the credibility of their promises and to engage with them to drive progress.
The following four aspects of our interactions with clients and the assets we manage for them underscore how we are concretely addressing the above commitments.
We have always believed that facilitating the green economic transition represents a significant investment opportunity. In fact, since long before the Paris Agreement was signed. Pictet has been a pioneer in sustainable investments with a range of specific strategies that direct capital towards companies providing solutions to environmental problems. These strategies raised CHF 6.3 billion in 2020 to reach CHF 22 billion in total at the end of 2020. Recently the Financial Times recognized three investment funds managed by Pictet as either the largest or second largest globally in the categories of “sustainable” and “climate.”
Concretely, these strategies allow our clients to invest in technologies, innovation and infrastructure - such as wind, solar and energy efficiency solutions - that are instrumental in accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy and maintaining global warming below two degrees. In the water industry, where we are an investment leader, the technologies and resource management companies we invest in are absolutely critical to increasing the resilience and adaptation of our societies to climate change.
As part of our Vision 2025, we will continue to develop innovative investment strategies that provide capital to companies which have a positive impact on the environment and society. We are convinced this is the right thing to do for people, planet, and the portfolios of our clients.
As active investment managers, our role in helping build a green economy extends beyond channelling capital to environmental technology. It also involves bringing about positive change in corporate behaviour, where a transition to low carbon is possible and needs to be accelerated.
This is why, throughout our investment activities for private and institutional clients, we deploy active ownership and engagement with the aim of improving the ESG performance of the companies we invest in.
We continue to scale our engagement for maximum impact. When the companies we own fall short of our expectations in their management of ESG matters, we engage either directly or by collaborating with other investors. Where necessary, we escalate our concerns to Board representatives, vote against management or support shareholder resolutions. Depending on the severity of the concern and the issuers’ willingness to adopt accepted standards of best practice, we may sell the investment.
For some companies, such as electricity producers, the low carbon transition is critical given that power generation represents around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, for our actively managed assets, we expect energy companies to meet the following minimum standards in order to remain investible:
- They may not make new investments in coal-fired power stations
- They must have a credible plan for decarbonisation
- This plan must be compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement
For nearly all the developed market companies we invest in, this is already a reality, although we continue to monitor and track their progress. For those based in emerging markets, which have a more challenging path to decarbonisation, we are working collaboratively with their management to agree a credible timeframe for transition.
Given the scale of the challenge, we believe the investment community can be more effective if its members work together to achieve common goals. As a result, we have actively supported the Institutional Investor Group on Climate Change since 2013, and are part of Climate Action 100+, an investor-led initiative to ensure the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters take necessary action on climate change.
Addressing climate change is not only the right thing to do for the planet, it is also the prudent thing to do as an investor. We have been integrating ESG factors, of which climate is a key pillar, into our investment process and risk management framework for many years. Today, 75% of the assets we actively manage for clients (private and institutional) are held in portfolios which integrate ESG factors. We will raise that proportion to 100% by 2025.
We are continuously expanding the range of asset classes and indicators we track to better evaluate the threats climate change presents to our portfolios. This enables us to improve the way in which we monitor and control risk and allows us to offer clients greater transparency on how ESG factors affect their investments.
Another way to address climate and other ESG risks is by excluding specific activities from our portfolios. As a matter of principle, we do not believe that exclusion is the best way forward in all cases. Engagement can offer better outcomes in many instances. However, excluding activities that are most harmful to society and the environment can be a useful tool when there is no path to transition or when these activities are incompatible with our core values.
In the area of climate, we categorically exclude companies that generate significant revenue from thermal coal mining from all actively managed assets. This sector has a limited ability to decarbonise and is at high risk of becoming a stranded asset.
The way forward
There is no silver bullet to address climate change. It will require imagination, courage and perseverance – the same qualities that humans have deployed in the battle against Covid-19.
Mitigating the risks of climate change and convincing our clients of the immense opportunities inherent in the transition are not only key priorities for us, but also a fiduciary duty.
The Pictet Group has survived and prospered for over two centuries by taking a responsible, long-term approach to business and to the management of our clients’ wealth. In doing so, we have always considered not only the interests of the present, but also of future generations. We believe this is the essence of responsible thinking, and the best contribution we can make to the future of sustainable life on the planet.
1 Defined as companies deriving more that 25% of their revenues from the relevant carbon-intensive activities.