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Blog Posts — September 21, 2020

Conversation with BCI: New Platform Can Help Accelerate SDI Adoption in the Americas

Earlier this month, we hosted a webinar with the Sustainable Development Investments Asset Owner Platform (SDI AOP) on how to access the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We caught up with one of the asset owners of the SDI AOP, Jennifer Coulson from British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI). Jennifer is the Vice President of ESG at the Canadian investment manager and focuses on generating returns for the province’s public sector.

You can watch Jennifer’s presentation on asset owner perspectives here.

Why did your company decide to join the SDI AOP? 

BCI really appreciated that this initiative was founded and being led by asset owners. We feel that it is important for owners to take a leadership role in the area of SDGs and ensure that we do not face a plethora of confusing methodologies and approaches. Our hope is that this work leads to a global standard that the investment community embraces and will lead to faster adoption of SDGs as an investment framework.

There is so much talk around ESG and sustainable investing, why are you focusing on SDG and SDIs?

As we have seen from COVID-19, the economy simply cannot flourish without a healthy foundation and the SDGs provide that foundation. There are greater expectations for investors to align with the SDGs and this will only grow over the next ten years. At BCI, we have a long history of ESG integration and making sure we manage ESG risk. The next stage of our ESG strategy is to ensure that we are building on this and also seeking the investment opportunities that are presented by the SDGs. Before we can access these opportunities, we need to be able to identify them so consistently defining Sustainable Development Investments (SDIs) is crucial.

Why do you think take up has been slower in the Americas?

The SDGs are well known in some parts of the world, but I would say that North American investors have not been as exposed to them, so they are still becoming educated on SDGs. The SDGs were developed by the UN and were initially directed at governments, so it is simply taking time for the concept of SDGs as an investment framework to be fully understood. By working together with the other asset owners from countries who are ahead in terms of SDI adoption – like APG and PGGM – we believe this platform can help us bring our region up the curve faster. There are about 750 PRI signatories in the US and Canada alone, so the opportunity is there.

What makes the data different than other SDI data out there?

I think the way we are employing artificial intelligence in our work with the Entis team within APG is unique in the current market. The approach combines scraping public information with AI and is balanced with human intelligence. The result is a transparent and robust methodology that is continually evolving. Again, the SDI AOP is asset-owner led. If you look at the SDI AOP structure – the four asset owners: APG, PGGM, AustralianSuper and ourselves – have come together to create a separate ‘Design Authority’ which is independent and with strict oversight from the investors. Finally, and I think most importantly, this data is actually used by asset owners, and we are making it available to others, reflecting the level of confidence we have in this data.

This year, BCI celebrates 20 years of investing globally. With USD 171.3bn of managed assets, it is a leading provider of investment management services for British Columbia’s public sector and one of the largest asset managers in Canada.