From the November 2010 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Sustainability: Strategically Profitable

Leading companies show how sustainability has become a sound business practice in different industries around the globe.

For companies in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI), sustainable business practices represent a comprehensive approach to doing business. For investors, a company’s inclusion in the DJSI indicates quality and commitment to stakeholders.

Launched in 1999, the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes are the first global indexes to track the financial performance of the leading companies worldwide that are sustainability driven. Based on the cooperation of Dow Jones Indexes, STOXX Limited and SAM, these indexes provide asset managers with reliable and objective benchmarks to manage sustainability portfolios.

The Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI World) and sub-indexes are developed by SAM, a Zurich, Switzerland-based investment boutique focused exclusively on sustainability investing. DJSI World captures the top 10 percent of the largest 2,500 companies worldwide based on long-term economic, environmental and social criteria.

Currently more than 70 DJSI licenses are held by asset managers in 16 countries that manage a variety of financial products, including active and passive funds, certificates and segregated accounts. In total, these licensees presently manage over $8 billion based on the DJSI.

According to SAM and the DJSI website, index members are selected through a systematic assessment that identifies the sustainability leaders in each of 57 industry groups. (See www.sustainability-index.com.) The underlying research methodology accounts for general as well as industry-specific sustainability trends and evaluates corporations based on a variety of criteria, including climate-change strategies, energy consumption, human resources development, knowledge management, stakeholder relations and corporate governance.

Corporate sustainability creates long-term shareholder value by embracing opportunities and managing risks in relation to economic, environmental and social developments. Companies included in the index build long-term shareholder value by having their strategies and management harness the market’s potential for sustainable products and services.

These companies display high levels of competence in addressing global and industry challenges in multiple areas, such as strategy, finance, customers and products, and human resources.

The indexes’ composition changes regularly. The annual review of the DJSI components considers corporate economic, environmental and social performance; corporate governance; risk management; branding; climate change mitigation; supply chain standards; and labor practices. The review accounts for general as well as industry specific sustainability criteria.

In September 2010, SAM and Dow Jones Indexes announced that 46 companies would be dropped from the DJSI World and 48 companies would be added. The largest additions (by market capitalization) included Standard Chartered, Morgan Stanley and ArcelorMittal; the biggest deletions were Toyota Motor, Royal Dutch Shell and UniCredit.

Corporate sustainability performance is an “investable concept” that can benefit companies and investors: Since its inception on August 31, 1999, the DJSI World Index has generated a 7.66 percent annual return versus the MSCI Index’s 5.87 percent, according to an August 2010 DSJI/SAM report.

Software Industry

Business-software manufacturer SAP is a model of corporate sustainability. For the past four consecutive years, SAP has been named the leader of the software sector of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, and the company has been nominated for the German Sustainability Award in the category “most sustainable business strategy.”

In an e-mail interview, Peter Graf, SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer, notes that the company became much more serious about sustainability about three years ago after receiving various requests for increased environmental tracking and reporting and for energy management (both in manufacturing and facilities).

In addition, and even more significantly, SAP’s customers began requiring the company to produce a sustainability policy and evidence that the firm was a sustainable supplier and had goals to improve its sustainability position.

Those factors led to an internal study of the sustainability opportunity about two years ago. SAP developed a list of the opportunities, talked to over 100 customers and partners to get their views and then presented the findings to its executive board. The board accepted the findings and that led to the ongoing efforts to enhance the company’s products and services.

Today, says Graf, SAP has a two-part sustainability strategy. First, the company has become a role model for how a large company could address sustainability both by policy and principles, and by using technology. Second, the firm works to enable its customers to address sustainability.

As SAP started down its own path to develop sustainability, Graf notes, the company also learned that software tools weren’t very well developed to gather and collect information as part of a business process. There were no links to common master data or organized workflow and little built-in reporting standards. Consequently, the company identified several different opportunities to create or improve existing tools.

 Additionally, SAP has developed and introduced a product designed to aid a company in creating, gathering and monitoring data and reporting its own sustainability goals. This product, SAP Sustainability Performance Management, was released in December 2009, and many customers are running it in their operations. SAP uses the report for its own sustainability management team meetings and quarterly executive reviews.

These efforts have produced results for SAP. In 2009, the company realized 90 million euros (about $120 million) in savings and a reduction of 15 percent in carbon emissions. Those savings were realized by reducing business flights 30 percent, cutting electricity use 7 percent, reducing paper use 25 percent and increasing the use of renewable energy by 33 percent.

Financial Services

AXA Group, a global financial services and insurance business, has had a sustainable development department since 2001. The company has a three-part sustainability strategy, says Alice Steenland, vice president of corporate responsibility (CR), in Paris. The first part focuses on structuring the approach to CR through clear key performance indicators (KPIs) and governance structures. The second element focuses on differentiating the company’s work in a key area of corporate responsibility.

“We have chosen risk research and education, which is obviously very closely linked to our core business,” says Steenland. “We have large amounts of information on financial risk, environmental risk and other risks. We feel it is part of our responsibility to share that information with society, so we have numerous programs around risk education throughout the group. We also have a 100 million euro research fund, which finances fundamental research on risk.”

The third part of AXA’s strategy is the engagement of employees. Sustainability and corporate responsibility programs work only if all employees believe they’re part of their daily jobs, Steenland says. “It’s not a communications exercise; it’s just part of the way we want to do business — every employee needs to be involved. We are trying to get employees to think about how they can best do this. As a result, one major initiative we launched in the beginning of the year was an online forum, where we asked employees what responsibility meant to them and in what areas they felt the group needed to be doing more. We had about 10,000 people connecting and talking with their senior managers about these programs.”

AXA’s sustainability efforts have paid off. Steenland says that the company is well regarded by the socially responsible investment (SRI) ratings agencies, and responses from AXA’s stakeholder groups have been positive. “I think people do see the connection between the core business and the fact that it entails, in and of itself, a sense of responsibility,” she says.

Health Care

Roche has been named Super-Sector Leader in Health Care in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI) for the second year running. This top ranking among the world’s leading sustainability-driven health care companies is a reflection of Roche’s commitment to its employees, communities and the environment, and positions Roche as a global leader in the management of sustainable business practices. Roche has been included in the DJSI World and STOXX since 2004 and first achieved the title of Super-Sector Leader in Healthcare in 2009.

“We are extremely pleased to be recognized again as the Super-Sector Leader in Health Care for the second year in a row,” commented Severin Schwan, CEO of Roche, in a press release. “Sustainability is at the core of our business practices, and this positioning reflects our commitment to running our business in a way that is ethical, responsible and creates long-term value for stakeholders. Our ongoing sector leadership position will also provide an incentive to further develop our sustainability strategy while continuing to deliver innovative treatments for patients with unmet medical needs.”

Roche’s activities in the area of sustainability include reducing energy consumption and improving energy efficiency, thereby decreasing its carbon footprint. Additional programs include involvement in local community charitable initiatives, remuneration and benefit programs that reflect the dedication and value of its employees and ultimately the development of new approaches to bring medically valuable and sustainable health care products and services to patients around the world.

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.