Scoring

In late 2019 Philip Morris was added to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) North America which recognised, in the eyes of the tobacco giant’s suited PR, the company’s “exemplary sustainability performance” and “best in class” performance against the DJSI’s apparent wobbly ESG metrics. It’s a development that jars with the view of the World Health Organisation who call tobacco an “epidemic”, and one of the biggest health threats the world has ever faced. Indeed, a health ‘threat’ that is loosely responsible for 8m deaths a year, more than a million of which are for people who don’t even smoke. Now this is a problem. For if a Philip Morris can vault into a shiny ESG Index then, bar the really naughty companies, it’s game on for pretty much everyone else too. The specific problem is that ratings from the likes of MSCI and Sustainalytics measure the degree to which a company’s economic value is at risk to ESG factors. It doesn’t appear to ask the very obvious question of whether the company does anyone any good. Which in the case of Philip Morris, at least 8m people a year would likely have a view. There are other problems too, like the way ratings assign weights to each ESG factor, which allow all sorts of questionable companies to get some of the highest ESG ratings despite making little positive contribution to wider society. Crown Holdings is not one of those companies. Indeed Crown Holdings has a poor ESG ‘score’, despite the fact that Crown makes aluminium cans; aluminium cans that can be recycled again and again, and again and offer a far, far more sustainable packaging solution than ocean-bound plastic bottles. Not only does the company produce an inherently environmentally friendly product, it also set out in 2020 an ambitious sustainability programme focused on reducing the impact of climate change, more efficient use of natural resources, supporting circularity, enacting social change and enhancing product performance. The company announced recently they had surpassed all their goals for the year and that it was the first metal packaging company to run 100% of its US and Canadian manufacturing facilities on renewable energy. And yet, despite all of this, according to the new-fangled ESG experts, the company deserves a low ESG score. Such scores clearly mean different things to different people, but when it comes to real sustainability, investors should get to know the difference.