In the Loop: Bee-washing, nature engagement, and the DEI backlash

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Bee-washing (and how to avoid it)

Source: Getty

Firms keen to tout their sustainability credentials have another pitfall to avoid – being accused of “bee-washing”.

RI first came across the term in a Daily Telegraph article, which analysed the environmental impact of the proliferation of honeybee hives on corporate roofs in central London. The message was pretty clear – bees aren’t good.

To find out more, we spoke to Mark Patterson, who runs Api:Cultural, a firm that works with businesses and communities to improve London’s environment for pollinators.

He told RI that the problem isn’t honeybees themselves “but how we keep them, maximise their numbers in the city to numbers far beyond what is natural, at the expense of other pollinator species they compete with”.

“A few hives is fine, but there are just too many bee hives in central London.”

So what can City firms do instead to help pollinators? Patterson suggests more holistic options – for example, creating nesting mounds, planting native flowers, or putting breeding ponds on roofs.

As he notes, these things aren’t necessarily expensive or resource-intensive. For example, all that’s needed to create a breeding pond is a washing up bucket filled with dead leaves and rotting vegetation, which will get topped up with rainwater.

“This creates the festering, putrid, skanky conditions that hover flies like to reproduce in and they’re really important pollinators. It’s maybe less sexy than saying you’ve got a bee hotel, but it’s what’s needed.”

Other options include training employees to identify pollinators and conduct surveys of species in their vicinity. The results can then be uploaded to apps such as iRecord or iNaturalist, which monitor pollinator populations.

“Or you can sponsor a charity like Bees for Development or Bees Abroad, which train vulnerable people in rural communities in Asia and Africa to be beekeepers using locally sourced materials.”

Nature champions

Sticking with nature, we have received another batch of responses to our Nature Action 100 survey – and it appears that we have a new engagement champion.

We asked the 205 investor signatories to the collective engagement initiative to tell us about the firms they have been assigned to work on, a process that was completed this year.

The majority of respondents said they would be involved in five engagement teams or less. At the other end of the scale, Green Century Capital Management and As You Sow told us they had 12 and “approximately 10” targets respectively.

Their time at the top of the table, however, was short. The second batch of responses included one from Generali, which joined NA100 after launch along with 14 other firms including Amundi, Alecta and Folksam.

Despite its late arrival, the Italian insurance group is clearly serious about nature engagement – it will be joining the NA100 teams for a total of 14 companies.

A spokesperson declined to name the firms, but said eight are in developed markets and six in emerging markets. In terms of sectors, they apparently straddle several of NA100’s categories, including forestry and packing, consumer goods, retail and food.

Quote of the week

“The other day I referred to it as a 300-page paperweight”

An asset manager is not entirely convinced of the value of producing PRI reports

The week in RI

With proxy season getting underway, voting was a key topic for the editorial team this week.

We looked at claims that blue state pension funds in the US are failing to use their proxy power to effect change on climate and covered the decision by French financial regulator AMF to scrutinise asset manager voting and engagement policies.

We also published a deep dive into the increasing popularity of vote pre-disclosure among leading asset owners.

Elsewhere, nature remained a major theme as the GRI published its revised biodiversity standard.

We also asked some of the finance sector’s sustainability leaders why they had decided not to join the list of TNFD early adopters, as well as reporting on the positive reaction among investors to news of China’s plans for a biodiversity disclosure framework.

In climate news, the IIGCC warned of “perverse outcomes” from attempts to cut Scope 3 emissions, an investor group appointed consultants to work on a project to develop avoided emissions data products, and ECB analysis found that 90 percent of EU banks are not aligned with the Paris Agreement.

Also in the EU, assets of climate benchmark ETFs nearly doubled in 2023 and Baden-Württemberg sold a chunk of assets to comply with a new sustainable investing law.

Finally, long-time friend of RI Maria Nazarova-Doyle, now global head of sustainable investment at IFM Investors, shared with us her thoughts on how the Just Transition can work in developed markets.

DEI backlash

While attempts by US Republicans to frame ESG as the ultimate bogeyman have clearly spooked the financial sector, there are signs that the issue has failed to land with the wider American public.

The two champions of anti-ESG, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswarmy, have dropped out of the race to become presidential candidate, and front-runner Donald Trump has shown little interest in the term.

Instead, the American right seems to be pivoting to attacks on a new three-letter abbreviation: DEI.

Some of the first shots in this new combat were fired last year, when DEI was – risibly – blamed for causing the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.

Fuel was added to the fire in June, when the US Supreme Court banned affirmative action, effectively giving right-wingers a mandate to go after firms and universities for DEI policies – an opportunity they embraced enthusiastically.

Most recently, this new trend has shown up as attacks on airlines. DEI has been blamed for Boeing’s safety issues, and some keyboard warriors have questioned the wisdom of flying on planes with female or Black pilots.

Obviously the question we’re asking at RI is, what does this mean for investors? Specifically, we wondered whether the DEI backlash might show up in shareholder proposals in this year’s proxy season.

Legal & General Investment Management’s global ESG and diversity manager Clare Payn told RI that the manager is monitoring the DEI backlash in the US, which she described as “unfortunate” and “disheartening”.

“We see lots of shareholder proposals coming through from the US on various topics, but social topics have been prevalent in the past couple of years, and increasing, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out with the voting season coming up,” she said.

At the same time, she added, companies are still doing a lot “and we haven’t had responses during our engagements on diversity telling us that this is not of continuing importance and focus”.

“We will certainly frame any engagements we have with companies within our approach that DEI is financially material,” she said.

We would be interested to know how other investors are thinking about this issue and what they have been hearing from companies. As always, we can be reached at edit@responsible-investor.com.

That sinking feeling

Source: Getty

Delegates attending the 10th Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue in Germany this March will be treated to a high-profile line-up. Government ministers from as far afield as Kyrgyzstan and Madagascar are due to fly in to discuss the world’s transition to cleaner energy.

With so many dignitaries in town, it is only fitting that Germany’s foreign office plays host to proceedings.

The street address of the ministry building is the historic Werderscher Markt, but attendees may find it a little on the nose that the designated entrance to the conference is down a side door on Unterwasserstraße.

English translation? Underwater Street.


Today’s letter was prepared by the RI editorial team.