Pragmatic Economics and Sustainable Finance

Building solutions for a better world

Sustainable Finance

Sustainable Finance is an emerging field. Hopefully we help in the efforts to build an area in which financial markets can work in tandem with companies to improve environmental performance. Below there are three articles with an unifying theme – the idea that market solutions may bring forth change in financial system regarding sustainability. The first was published in the Harvard Business Review and proposes a methodology to quantify the costs and benefits associated with sustainability issues in the beef industry. The second was published in the Journal of Business Ethics. I and my co-authors develop a ratings system based on sustainability criteria. Banks can use it to improve their loans and their credit-risk models. The third article shows how to change valuation models to incorporate sustainability criteria. If this concept is spread out market forces will lead to firms searching for sustainability opportunities to maximize shareholder value, creating a positive feedback that could improve the allocation of capital towards companies that are better managed regarding their sustainability indicators. Finally, I am bridging my economics and sustainability interests by investigating, with colleagues, the political economy of energy markets and how we can improve the use of renewables. My first research on the topic has been published in Energy Economics and more will follow in the coming months. 

How (a)symmetric is the response of import demand to changes in its determinants? Evidence from European energy imports – Energy Economics (2018)

Energy imports are crucial for European countries, yet little is known about determinants of their import demand. We update long-outdated estimates of import demand elasticities using recent data for crude and derived energy products and contribute to the debate on the asymmetry of import demand by using recent developments in econometric modelling. Our results have important implications for the geopolitics of energy markets in Europe. (Asymmetric) Income seems to be the most relevant determinant of import demand; Economic growth and fossil fuel consumption are correlated, even in the context of the European agenda towards renewables. Our results suggest that European economic recovery may derail the drive for lower fossil consumption, and that changes in the natural gas market may further complicate this drive, especially regarding Russia as the primary supplier to the Eurozone.

How to Quantify Sustainability’s Impact on Your Bottom Line – Harvard Business Review (2017)

The application of the methodology to the beef industry in Brazil found that embedded sustainability does improve financial performance through mediating factors such as innovation, operational efficiency, risk reduction, employee recruitment, engagement and retention, customer and supplier loyalty, competitive advantage, reduced cost of capital, and improved marketing and sales.

Sustainability Credit Score System – Journal of Business Ethics – (2015).

Within the banking community, the argument about sustainability and profitability tends to be inversely
related. Our research suggests this does not need to be strictly the case. We present a credit score system based on sustainability issues, which is used as criteria to improve financial institutions’ lending policies. The Sustainability Credit Score System (SCSS) is based on the analytic hierarchy process methodology. Its first implementation is on the agricultural industry in Brazil. Three different firm development paths are identified: business as usual, sustainable business, and future sustainable business. The following six dimensions are present in the SCSS: economic growth, environmental protection, social progress, socio-economic development, eco-efficiency, and socio-environmental development. The results suggest that sustainability is not inversely related to profit either from a short- or long-term perspective. The SCSS is related to the Equator Principles, but its application is not driven to project financing. It also deals with short- and long-term risks and opportunities, instead of short-term sustainability impacts.

The Sustainability Delta: Considering Sustainability Opportunities in Firm Valuation – Sustainable Development – (2015).

We present the Sustainability Delta model as an improvement over existing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) methodologies used in firm valuation. Starting from the question how banks should integrate sustainability criteria into their valuation methods, we find that ESG methodologies currently do not consider the potential to generate higher future revenues due to sustainable innovations and also lack the consideration of different scenarios such as higher standards in legislation or consumer demand. To address these shortcomings the Sustainability Delta model is developed. Simulation results on the sugar manufacturing industry in Brazil demonstrate by using the Sustainability Delta we estimate an improved firm value of 1.24%. The Sustainability Delta would allow for a more accurate valuation of firms as well as for the more effective allocation of capital for investors, which should bring market pressure to improve sustainability practices and thus contribute to sustainable development.

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