Corporations and the stock market itself are much like humans: They’re living, changing, evolving entities. It’s easy to forget the real world we all live in when we’re poring through financial statements and trying to make our investments, but every number has to do with the real world, the humans in it, and how people can hurt or help the future.
Long-term buy-and-hold investors seek sustainable, if not growing, returns. Sustainable investing — investing that takes into account environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors — gets a bad rap, but it’s actually the way of the future. Falling behind in this regard could wreck portfolios and economies. Getting ahead is one way investors might drum up the returns they dream of.
The $5 trillion question (and answer)
Sustainability advocacy organization Ceres, which brings together investors, corporations, policymakers, and nongovernmental organizations, recently released a forward-looking report: “The 21st Century Investor: Ceres Blueprint for Sustainable Investing.”
Investing styles tagged “green,” “socially responsible investing,” “responsible investing,” and so forth tend to get a bad rap. The factors they tackle have been greatly politicized, and unfortunately, many traditional investors are missing the big picture of what the future looks like without action on these fronts. The bad news: It’s risky. The good news: There are financial opportunities for corporations and investors.
There are increasing signs that climate-related threats are material financial issues, and could hit companies’ top and bottom lines hard. Ceres has often pointed to increasing extreme weather events and their price tags. For example, just last year in the U.S., disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the drought resulted in insured losses of $58 billion. Meanwhile, when it comes to general economic losses, Hurricane Sandy’s price tag was actually $70 billion.
The report is full of data on the subject. For example, Mercer Consulting has calculated that the investment opportunities in areas like global clean energy and climate adaptation may reach the $5 trillion mark in the course of the next 15 to 20 years..
Here comes the sun
Many companies are already addressing these issues, and many moves are significant. Their efforts will not only help their businesses over the long term through cost savings, but helping reduce the damage will help protect fragile economic ecosystems. Furthermore, innovating to devise forward-looking options to help successfully navigate a changing world will result in products in demand.
Many of these money-saving, environmentally friendly options use renewable resources instead of scarce ones. Let’s consider solar, just for starters.
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) hasn’t always impressed the public with its environmental policies, but it’s probably doing better than many think. Although it already boasts the largest solar array in the U.S., it’s also making plans to add another solar farm near its Nevada data center. The company is working with SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR) and NV Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NVE) on the venture, and the farm will use new technology to boost the amount of energy it can harvest from the sun. Apple’s ultimate goal is to power its data centers with 100% renewable energy.
In addition, if regulators approve the venture, the Ft. Churchill Solar Array will provide 100 high-paying jobs in the area; that may not be a ton of new jobs, but America’s still large unemployment numbers tell us we need every new job we can get, and projects like this one add opportunities. In this case, the surrounding area has a staggering 13% unemployment rate.
SolarCity Corp (NASDAQ:SCTY) has been one of the most successful IPOs of the year. Maybe it’s an overvalued and risky stock — high-flying IPOs can be recipes for disaster — but one thing’s for sure: There are reasons that investors are excited about its growth potential. Solar installations are its core business, and the signals are bullish. Last year, California alone booked a 26% increase in solar installations. Overall, solar installations in this year’s first quarter increased by 33% — not surprisingly led by California — with increasing growth attributed to residential and business adoption.
Even more exciting, SolarCity Corp (NASDAQ:SCTY) is looking to tackle one of solar energy’s biggest obstacles. It has announced plans to develop a product that will store solar power, aimed for 2015. The battery packs in question are actually Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)‘ tech; Tesla’s another environmentally friendly upstart, and another visionary Elon Musk join venture.
In a great example of the interconnections of companies with the same goals — to provide environmentally sound alternatives — the move is also a win for Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA), since it’s been working on such batteries, and the more the batteries saturate the market, the cheaper these solutions will become. That’s a long-term win-win for both companies.