Ukraine has spurred companies to walk the ESG talk…mostly


The colours of the Ukrainian flag. Photo by Tina Hartung on Unsplash

Ukraine has spurred companies to walk the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) talk.

The news has been surprising though it shouldn’t be. After all,  ESG investors, who prize a firm’s collective conscientiousness over base profit basely earned, increasingly have a role to play. Consider all that’s happened in the week since Russia invaded Ukraine:

** On February 27, the British energy group BP said it would divest its stake in Russian energy firm Rosneft.

** Shell followed suit on February 28.

** The $1.3 trillion Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, has begun to offload its Russian assets. (For now, the UAE’s Mubadala and the Qatar Investment Authority are said to be holding onto their Russian assets.)

** MSCI, a New York-headquartered global finance company, is exploring the appropriate treatment of Russian equities.

** Goldman Sachs has warned that Russian debt could be taken off the widely followed JPMorgan index.

** JPMorgan and Danske Bank are among asset managers to freeze funds with exposure to Russian equities.

That energy companies are on the economic frontline in this war shows how different it is from past conflicts (albeit, with the same toll of human life, suffering and hardship). As environmental campaigner Bill McKibben recently put it: “if you want to stand with the brave people of Ukraine, you need to find a way to stand against oil and gas”, to reduce energy dependence on Russia.

“After Hitler invaded the Sudetenland,” Mr McKibben said, “America turned its industrial prowess to building tanks, bombers and destroyers. Now, we must respond with renewables.”

There is more to come and much more to be done, on that front.