a.s.r.’s SRI policy covers all its investments, both for proprietary assets (or own account) and those managed on behalf of third party clients. Over the years, a.s.r. has expanded its efforts from its original focus on exclusions to making a positive contribution to a more sustainable world.
During 2021 a.s.r. announced intensified targets regarding the investment portfolio. The new target is to reduce the carbon footprint (scope 3) for internal assets under management by 65% by 2030, compared to 2015. A new exit and phase out strategy with respect to the investments in fossil fuels was announced. This has led to an immediate zero tolerance for companies deriving revenue from the mining and production of thermal coal. Also companies involved in unconventional oil and gas will be drastically reduced (threshold < 5% of revenues). For companies in conventional oil and gas and other carbon-intensive companies a.s.r. will determine whether the strategies and targets of these companies are in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. a.s.r. does so by using a combination of tools to assess companies' climate targets, emissions and climate strategy. A regular update of a.s.r.'s efforts can be found in the quarterly ESG reports, see www.asrnl.com.
a.s.r. asset management (AVB) uses external data providers (Vigeo Eiris, part of Moody’s ESG and MSCI ESG) to screen its investments against a.s.r.'s SRI policy (see www.asrnl.com) which focuses on a wide range of ESG criteria such as climate change, human rights, biodiversity and executive remuneration. Countries and businesses that do not meet the criteria are excluded.
a.s.r. also assesses businesses on their compliance with international conventions such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the UN Global Compact principles (UNGC).
a.s.r. safeguards the full compliance of its SRI policy using a three-step process: internal teams’ implementation (investment departments), compliance process (risk department) and an independent external assurance (by Forum Ethibel). a.s.r. will also adhere to this target in respect of acquisitions and mergers.
a.s.r. understands the importance of, and the responsibility expected from, its role as an investor, both as asset owner and asset manager. Sustainability is an essential part of a.s.r.’s investment beliefs. The integration of ESG criteria in the management of investments contributes directly to the reduction of risks (both financial and reputational) and has a positive effect on its long-term performance. The SRI policy has been integrated into internal investment practice through:
ESG integration for best-in-class investments based on positive selection
Positive selection is part of a.s.r.’s investment process for companies based on ESG practices and products. Based on research carried out by its data providers, companies are classified using a relative, sector-based ranking for ESG themes such as: environment, labour practices, good governance, human rights and (forward-looking) carbon data, among other criteria. For a detailed description of these criteria see www.asrnl.com. For sovereign bonds, a.s.r. applies a best-in-class selection of countries based on their SDG performance. This is in line with the SDG country ranking published by the SDG Index: the weighted average score of the a.s.r. sovereign portfolio is ranked in the first quartile (best-in-class) of the SDG Index; this position in the first quartile should be continuous.
Exclusion criteria for countries and companies
a.s.r. pursues a strict exclusion policy for controversial activities which it applies to all internally managed portfolios, both for its own account and for third parties. In 2021, the threshold for revenue from electricity production from coal has been lowered from 50% to 20%, resulting in the exclusion of 27 additional companies from the investable universe. In 2021 a.s.r. implemented an exit and phase out strategy with respect to the investments in fossil fuels. Related to unconventional oil and gas this has led to an additional exclusion of more than 70 companies. The complete exclusion of thermal coal led to 90 more exclusions. With regard to investments in sovereign debt, a.s.r. has excluded 82 countries that are poor performers in the annual Freedom in the World report, or which achieve a low ranking on the Corruption Perceptions Index or the Environmental SDGs. See the following table for the number of excluded companies.
|Human rights violations||4||7|
|Labour rights violations||-||2|
|Tar sands and shale oil1||-||8|
|Coal-fired electricity generation||38||11|
|Nuclear energy-related activities||11||10|
|Unconventional oil and gas||72||NA|
|Total number of exclusions2||415||249|
In 2021, a.s.r. continued increasing its engagement efforts to actively promote higher sustainability practices. The complete list of companies under engagement and their status is published on www.asrnl.com, including the reason and status of the engagement.
a.s.r. is actively engaged with a total of 34 companies (2020: 29). a.s.r. engages with companies that have either shown controversial behaviour (e.g. UNGC violations) or are controversial in another way (e.g. as a result of societal discussions). Sustainability is a standard topic on a.s.r.’s agenda at meetings with companies from its investment portfolio, for monitoring purposes. a.s.r. engages with governments, societal organisations and peers through different platforms such as the International Responsible Business Conduct (IRBC) agreements.
A few examples of engagements in 2021:
a.s.r. participated in a joint programme around deforestation where satellite imagery is used to highlight changes in vegetation cover associated with plantation expansions or forest fires. These deforestation activities take place in the supply chains of soft commodities like palm oil. The first phase of the engagement programme ran from August 2020 until early 2021, and subsequently won the ESG engagement initiative of the year at the 2021 Environmental Finance Awards. The second phase started last year, where the number of investors participating expanded, but also the number of companies under engagement has doubled.
Within the IRBC agreement the focus of 2021 was biodiversity. a.s.r. started an engagement with three companies on no-deforestation in the soy supply chain and the protein transition towards more plant-based foods. This was a unique cooperation with insurers, pension funds, NGOs and the Dutch government.
Other examples include Tesla (engagement on cobalt mining and human rights), ENI SpA (environment and human rights) and Johnson and Johnson (COVID-19, medicines and labour rights).
a.s.r. additionally continued to contribute to the development of a global carbon accounting standard through PCAF and in 2021 was an active member of five working groups operated by the Dutch PCAF organisation. In 2021, a.s.r. continued its active involvement in the Biodiversity Working Group under the Sustainable Finance Platform of De Nederlandsche Bank (Dutch Central Bank (DNB)).
Due to the importance of engagement, a.s.r. began a new partnership with engagement providers in order to reach out to more companies in an efficient way, by pulling a.s.r. assets next to a sizeable number of like-minded investors.
In 2021, a.s.r. further increased its impact investments among all asset classes. It also finalised a pilot with fintech company Util to measure the net societal impact of selected investment portfolios. a.s.r. also continued its board position within the National Advisory Board for impact investing (NAB). See for the performance on the current target chapter 2.5.1 and for a.s.r.’s renewed target on impact investing see chapter 2.5.2.
A shareholders’ right to vote is essential for the proper functioning of a corporate governance system. a.s.r. exercises this right whenever relevant. a.s.r.’s voting policy was developed in accordance with the Dutch Corporate Governance Code and a.s.r.'s own SRI policy. This policy is applicable to all internally managed listed equities. In 2021, a.s.r. voted at nearly 94.58% of the shareholder meetings held. Of the 1,065 shareholder meetings, 431 had at least one vote Against, Withheld or Abstained from. 302 of the 1,157 proposals voted against addressed remuneration for the EB or SB and 473 meetings had one or more votes against appointments. The voting accountability report provides a quarterly review of how a.s.r. exercised its voting rights at shareholder meetings.
Regarding ESG topics, the majority of the environmental topics related to initiatives to implement or improve transparency on the climate reporting. Diversity and inclusion was the most common topic of the social topics. Regarding governance topics, most voting proposals related to the independence of the Board. The voting policy and voting reports are available on www.asrnl.com.
The external providers’ SRI policy is a key criterion in the selection of external managers. a.s.r. also engages with its external managers to enhance their SRI policy, implementation and transparency. In 2021, a.s.r. actively engaged with new and existing managers, such as BlackRock or Northern Trust, to sharpen the ESG products. a.s.r. receives frequent sustainability reporting from its external managers and, where possible, requests impact metrics in addition to the sustainability reporting.
a.s.r. has integrated climate change and energy transition into its Strategic Asset Allocation (SAA) as an explicit theme since 2016 and has also taken measures to implement its commitment across the investment portfolio. a.s.r. has analysed and identified risks for the investment portfolio in its SAA, both bottom-up – covering the consideration of stranded assets and changing business models in the mining and energy sectors – and top-down. In 2021, a.s.r. again acquired updated data from Ortec Finance to incorporate climate scenarios into the SAA. These scenarios served as input for the reporting on climate risks and opportunities, in accordance with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD); see chapter 4.5 and the Climate report 2021 for more details.
In 2021, a.s.r.’s SRI policy was recognised by a number of external parties:
a.s.r. was awarded a top three position in the Dutch Insurers Benchmark by the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO).
The SRI policy was awarded the highest score by the UN Principles for Responsible Investments (UN PRI) assessment, achieving the same or better than the sector average in all areas, with the highest possible score of A+ for its strategy and governance and the ESG management of its equity investments.
Targets adopted by companies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are considered science-based if they are in line with what the latest climate science says is necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and a net zero future.
The financial sector is key to unlocking the system-wide change needed to reach net zero. The central enabling role of finance is recognised in Article 2.1(c) of the Paris Agreement: 'Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development'. a.s.r. is committed to reaching a state of net zero before 2050.
The Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has developed a guidance tool aimed at helping financial institutions in their efforts to provide resources, including methods, criteria and tooling for science-based target-setting (2021). a.s.r. has been involved in the development and road-testing of this new uniform methodology by SBTi. Another approach to defining a science-based reduction path is, for example, following the EU Climate Transition Benchmark and Paris-Aligned Benchmarks.
Although initial guidance has now been developed for science-based target-setting, some questions still remain about how to align the whole a.s.r. portfolio with the Paris Agreement. The availability of data is still a challenge for some asset classes. Nonetheless, a.s.r. is exploring various science-based methodologies in order to determine if the current target for 2030 of the investment portfolio is in line with the 1.5°C scenario and net zero before 2050. To align the emissions from its own activities (scope 1 and 2), such as housing, a.s.r. set an energy consumption target of less than 50 kWh / m2. This aligns with the approach that will most likely be included in the SBTi methodology, i.e. Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor.