As SDG-aligned impact investing grows, methods for measuring real-world outcomes are proliferating.
Time is running out to fulfil the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ensure an equitable world for the next generation. Success will require an eye-watering amount of money – between US$5-US$7 trillion a year, according to a World Bank report.
In more positive news, there has been an increasing shift in mindset as investors adopt SDG-aligned impact investing strategies, which means more private capital is being allocated towards these 17 global targets. Encouragingly, 85% of 440 impact investors assessed by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) in 2021 said their impact investment strategies focus on SDG-alignment.
But the next step is more difficult. How do investors measure the extent to which their capital is making a real-world difference?
Impact investing is when investors funnel capital into companies that are having a positive effect on the environment or society around them. To qualify as an impact investor, investments must have a measurement system in place, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) noted in a recent report. Worringly, the IFC highlighted that just a quarter of the US$2.3 trillion impact market in 2020 operated under a clear impact management system.
This is because understanding of how to quantify real-world outcomes of financial contributions to SDGs is still in its infancy.
“Investors want to stop guessing on impact,” says Lissa Glasgo, Senior Manager of impact measurement platform IRIS+ and Impact Measurement and Management at GIIN. “They want to be making impact-based decisions with the same rigour and quality of evidence as they do for risk and return-based decisions.”
Pressure is mounting for those tracking climate-related SDGs, as 2030 is also a significant milestone for investors, companies and governments that have set ambitious decarbonisation targets on the way to net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050.
To accelerate action, policymakers are beginning to ask companies and investors to disclose their impact on society and the environment, adopting a double materiality lens.
Standardised, high-quality impact reporting is still a long way down the road, experts say. Getting there will require further collaboration between investors, standards-setters, data providers and policymakers to navigate the complexities surrounding impact measurement.
As reporting requirements yield the required data, investor demand will increase for comprehensive impact measurement methodologies, tools and frameworks. This is where organisations and initiatives such as GIIN, the Impact Taskforce (ITF) and Impact Management Platform (IMP) come into play.