Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Index 

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) indexes have become crucial benchmarks in investing, guiding investors toward financially strong companies committed to sustainable and ethical practices.

High ESG scores offer more than just investor appeal. Companies with strong ESG performance often get better loan conditions and reduce supply chain risks, ensuring compliance with global sustainability standards and minimizing disruptions from environmental or labour issues.

In this article, we will address the pros and cons of these indexes, exploring their dual nature.

Understanding ESG Index 

What is an ESG index?

An ESG index evaluates companies based on predefined environmental, social, and governance criteria. These indexes are constructed by selecting companies that meet specific standards in these areas.

Scores are generated through analyst evaluations of corporate disclosures, management interviews, and public information, offering investors a benchmark for assessing sustainability performance. 

For instance, an ESG index might evaluate a company based on its

  • carbon footprint (environmental)
  • labour practices (social)
  • board diversity (governance)

Analysts review sustainability reports, interview executives, and examine public records to generate a score. Then, investors use this score to compare the company’s performance against others in the index. 

The evolution of ESG indexes 

The concept of ESG dates to the early 21st century, when the importance of sustainable investing began to gain recognition. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), launched in 1999, was one of the first global indexes to track company sustainability performance. 

Today, there are hundreds of ESG indexes, covering various sectors and themes like climate change, gender diversity, and renewable energy. This shift shows how important sustainable and responsible practices have become for corporate success.  

Parallel to the rise of ESG indexes, the investment industry has seen substantial growth, with the current value of assets managed worldwide estimated at over US$42 trillion. Significant contributions to this total include pension fund investments in the US and the UK, which amount to around US$7.4 trillion, and the global mutual fund industry, which accounted for $14 trillion in assets under management by the end of 2003.  

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Global ESG trending since May 2019 

This financial landscape underscores the significant role that ESG considerations play in the broader context of global investment strategies. 

ESG Index: challenges, mainstream adoption and performance

Challenges:

Despite significant advancements, ESG indices still face several challenges:

  • Lack of uniform standards
    Different ESG indices use various metrics, leading to inconsistent evaluations. This means the same company might receive different scores from different indices, causing confusion.

  • Greenwashing
    Some companies exaggerate their sustainability efforts to get better ESG scores. This practice undermines the credibility of ESG assessments. Fortunately, upcoming EU directives (i.e., Green Claim Directive, ESMA Regulation) aim to address these challenges. 

Mainstream Adoption

ESG indices are becoming more popular in mainstream investing. Studies show that ESG-focused strategies can outperform traditional ones. This dispels the myth that you have to sacrifice returns to invest sustainably. Research by MSCI revealed that companies with robust ESG profiles tend to display higher profitability and reduced risk over the long term compared to their counterparts.

Performance

Investing in companies with good ESG practices can lead to better financial performance. Companies with robust ESG profiles tend to be more profitable and less risky compared to their peers.

While ESG indices are a powerful tool, it's important to recognize their limitations and rely on independent analysis to ensure they contribute to positive change. 

How ACTUM Digital and Semantic Visions are leading the way  

ACTUM Digital is a leading digital transformation agency that helps businesses innovate and grow through cutting-edge technology and strategic insights. Semantic Visions specializes in big data analytics and provides valuable insights by monitoring a vast array of global news sources.  

In response to the market developments, ACTUM Digital and Semantic Visions have taken a proactive approach to contribute positively to ongoing industry dialogues. 

By monitoring over 220,000 domains in 12 languages, we provide a clear picture of how companies are perceived in the media in terms of sustainability. This approach highlights areas of excellence and identifies potential areas for improvement. 

Our joint approach to the ESG Index 

After months of development, our AI, LLM and ESG experts, in collaboration with Semantic Visions, developed the ESG Index tool to map your supply chain, score potential risks, and monitor long-term ESG trends.  

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"Setting a new standard for ESG transparency, we transform media insights into actionable ESG intelligence, offering unparalleled real-time and historical screening.” Dr. Lukas Gabor, ESG Subject Matter Expert

The index provides insights derived from media perceptions and adds a layer of validity to ESG assessments by offering both historical screening (up to five years back in time) and near real-time, relevant information.  

Moreover, unlike other indexes primarily reliant on ESG data provided by companies themselves or by third-party entities, Semantic Visions’ ESG Index offers a unique perspective: it reflects media perceptions regarding a company’s sustainability efforts.  

This enables proactive mitigation measures to safeguard your reputation and financial performance. 

Enhancing supplier reputations and transparency 

The index also helps you evaluate suppliers, ensuring their ESG practices align with your sustainability goals.  

“Distinguishing ourselves from the competition, we commit to a methodology characterized by complete transparency. Our goal was to formulate a straightforward equation to facilitate our customers’ easy comprehension of the materials provided,” adds Semantic Visions’ team.  

Detailed scoring system and trend analysis 

By utilizing a proportional scoring system — where the number of positive events is divided by the total number of events in each category — we offer precise assessments of companies across four distinct levels of ESG score detail.  

The greater the ratio of positive events, the higher the resulting score, and conversely, a lower ratio of positive events will lead to a lower score.  

In addition to ESG scoring, you may also be interested in analyzing long-term trends. For instance, by monitoring in near real-time, you can detect dips in long-term trends, allowing for proactive measures to be taken before significant damage occurs (e.g., protecting the company brand).  

Finally, thanks to our capability to break down data into specific categories, the index can be a helpful tool for the company’s double materiality, which is the first step in mandatory EU CSRD reporting.  

Request your comprehensive ESG report demo 

Request a demo of our comprehensive report, offering an extensive overview of the Semantic Visions ESG Index and detailing its features, methodologies, and findings. It also includes a step-by-step demonstration of the procedures and progress.

Author: Lukáš Gábor, ESG Lead at ACTUM Digital & Semantic Visions team.  

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