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Bringing you news, views and analysis since 2013
Keimpe Keunig, LGT


The path to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have gained increasing attention in the last couple of years – at long last, one could add, considering the 193 member states of the United Nations approved the collection of 17 global goals as far back as September 2015. The SDGs address global challenges, including poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality and climate change. Estimates of required investments to achieve the goals by 2030 range from USD 5 to 7 trillion per year.

Impact investors actively invest with the intention of supporting the goals by delivering positive and measurable outcomes. In addition, more and more mainstream investors have started mapping their investments to the SDGs to help meet the goals through their ESG frameworks. Growing investor interest in aligning their portfolios with the SDGs and the Paris Agreement is a welcome development. 

Despite these encouraging signals, the current level of investment by governments, development agencies and others is not nearly enough to meet the ambitious targets. The investment gap in developing countries is estimated by UNCTAD to be approximately USD 2.5 trillion per year. The private sector can play an important role in closing this gap, with one study showing that mobilising only a small percentage of the global assets under management annually would enable us to achieve the SDGs.1

Impact investors often use the SDGs to set goals and targets, which need to be measured in order to report on progress. Sophisticated investors understand that each SDG is defined on three levels: the overall goal and its underlying targets and indicators, which are further defined qualitatively and quantitatively. As a result, investors are becoming increasingly concrete in the problems they want to solve and the indicators they use to gauge progress.

The growth of impact investing has been impressive, as assets under management currently total USD 715 billion, according to recent estimates.2 Nevertheless, it is nowhere near the amount of capital needed to achieve the SDGs.

Recently, LGT Capital Partners conducted a survey asking private equity managers about their approach to the SDGs. We found that an overwhelming majority of 90% believe the SDGs will help the financial industry to address pressing environmental and social challenges. At the moment, just 28% of them integrate the SDGs into their investment activities, but interest is growing, as 34% of them say they are planning to do so in the next two years.

Private equity is arguably the asset class best suited to address the SDGs and deliver impact. For example, many growth capital investors emphasise the importance of “additionality,”or generating social or environmental impact that would not have occurred without the investment. Furthermore, the typical buy-for-control investment model in the asset class means that private equity managers have the greatest scope for mitigating negative impacts and driving positive outcomes. While many other types of investors are largely limited to “buy/no-buy” decisions at the outset, with scope for engagement activities afterwards, private equity managers can directly build the SDGs into their value creation plans.

The main areas of focus within impact investing and the SDGs are those with tangible goals closely related to business activities. For example, it is much easier to invest in goals related healthcare, education or clean energy than it is in “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” (SDG 16) or “Partnerships for the Goals” (SDG 17).

Private equity managers have clear preferences for certain SDGs, with “Decent Work and Economic Growth” (Goal 8) and “Good Health and Well-being” (Goal 3) ranking the highest among their priorities. This is followed closely by “Responsible Consumption and Production” (Goal 12) and “Climate Action” (Goal 13).3

The global pandemic of 2020 led to a dramatic increase in the awareness of healthcare issues, and it is influencing discussions on other social and environmental issues. The concept of “building back better” has grown out of this increased awareness and is gaining traction among policymakers and thought leaders around the world. Impact investing can play an important role in this. The positive effects of these investments can have a major influence on economies, creating jobs and contributing to more prosperous and resilient societies. 

1. UNDP report “Financing the 2030 agenda”, January 2018
2. 2020 Annual Impact Investor Survey of the GIIN
3. Findings from LGT Capital Partners’ survey ESG and the SDGs: Insights from private equity managers

Q&A with Keimpe Keuning, Executive Director, LGT Capital Partners

What can you say about the demand for impact investing?

The growth of impact investing comes from the increasing urgency of the environmental and social challenges of our time. Damaged ecosystems and stressed social fabrics in many countries have created a need for new technologies and innovative business models that can provide affordable, effective solutions. The desire to scale impact is another reason why we have seen this space growing both in size and activity level.

How do you define impact investing? 

At LGT Capital Partners, we look to the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), which defines impact investments as those made with the intention of generating a positive social or environmental impact alongside financial returns. The SDGs provide a concrete and useful framework for both goal setting and progress measurement.

Can you give some examples?

Sectors like healthcare, education and finance can present attractive impact investing opportunities. One example is a healthcare provider with a business model that encourages more accountability in patient care, resulting in better clinical outcomes and lower healthcare costs to the system. The business directly contributes to SDG 3 and more specifically contributes to the target 3.8: “to achieve universal health coverage and access to quality essential health-care services.” Another example is an alternative learning software tool that helps students who are at risk of failing in school to succeed in their studies. This reduces school dropout rates, which has many positive socio-economic implications. These outcomes have a direct impact on SDG targets 4.1 and 4.3.

How do you implement impact investments? 

We believe that private equity investments are well positioned to drive impact in companies because of its long-term investment horizon and the typical high degree of control over value creation. Private equity investors can make impact investments across many different investment styles, whether direct investments, co-investments, or investing in impact managers.

Measuring impact is very important in this area of investing, what is your approach?

Operationally, we follow the Operating Principles for Impact Management. For outcomes, we focus on the positive impact of companies on the SDGs. This is subsequently measured via predefined and specific key performance indicators (KPIs). When tracked over time, an investor can follow the progress and measure the overall impact. It is important to ensure that this measurement work focuses on real world outcomes and results, rather than simply measuring activity levels.

To better understand the outcome orientation of your impact approach, could you share some examples of these KPIs?

In the example of an education business that improves student performance, we look for the actual increase in graduation rates as an indicator for the impact. When positive, this number clearly confirms the product efficacy. Of course, these numbers also have to be analysed within a specific context. This is why we would also track additional KPIs, like the number of school districts that the business supports or the types of students (in terms of social need) who are using the product. 

Keimpe Keuning
Executive Director, LGT Capital Partners

Keimpe Keuning is an executive director at LGT Capital Partners where he is responsible for ESG and sustainability in Private Markets including Private Equity. He is a member of the firm’s ESG Committee and chairs the Private Markets ESG sub-committee. In his work activities he combines his investment experience with a strong client focus where discussions and solutions often revolve around portfolio insights, transparency and impact.

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