Kkr Small Business Grants – Elizabeth Seeger first developed her love for the environment when she visited central Brazil as a teenager, where she saw first-hand the impact of the activities of multinational corporations on local communities. Based on this lasting insight gained from her travels, Seger has turned her academic focus to the field of sustainability, firmly believing that the biggest environmental challenges and the most effective solutions can come from the corporate sector.
After earning a BA in Environmental Studies from the University of Chicago and an MBA from the Wharton School in Pennsylvania, Seger began a career as a change maker. In 2009, she joined the finance sector and began her first role at KKR, overseeing the assessment and implementation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues in the firm’s investment process.
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That same year, KKR became a signatory to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), and two years after Seeger joined, the firm published its first ESG report.
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Fast forward more than a decade, and today Seeger leads the firm’s global sustainability initiatives as managing director of KKR’s Sustainable Investment Group from his base in Washington, D.C.
Her thoughts on the direction of KKR’s sustainability initiatives, the company’s growth in Asia and her personal achievements.
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FA: Elizabeth, can you share your perspective on KKR’s responsible investment effort and how it has evolved since your early involvement with the firm?
Two years ago, we recognized an opportunity and actively considered a wider range of stakeholders as part of our investment process. So we started building an internal team with ESG, as well as regulatory, reputational and geopolitical expertise and ESG issues. In our investment process.
We manage ESG issues like any other business issue, and consideration of ESG risks and opportunities for value creation has become part of our global investment process. For example, our investment committees consider key ESG factors pre-investment, and we work with companies on post-investment ESG topics and seek to improve performance by leveraging our network of partners where possible.
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It was quite a journey. Our approach is constantly evolving and while I’m proud of the progress we’ve made over the last 13 years – my entire career at KKR – we’re aware there’s more work to be done. As practices evolve and the bar rises, we must continue to refine our toolkit.
FA: How do you approach ESG engagement in international markets in terms of regional regulation and best practices and different investment strategies?
ES: Our approach to ESG integration and management is based on realism and intentionality, supported by material and integrated into our investment decision-making. Our Responsible Investment Policy outlines how we incorporate ESG risks and value creation opportunities into our investment processes across our global asset classes.
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However, as there may be regional variations and differences, it is also important to understand the current challenges and the local conditions in which they are placed.
While our responsible investment policy is “Northern,” we have developed business strategies and ESG tools to help address the unique aspects of an asset or investment strategy that impact our approach to engagement.
Our investment teams have access to our Sustainable Investments team – a group of over 10 dedicated ESG professionals with asset expertise that supports a variety of business strategies.
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FA: How can industry use technology – data and analytics – to drive change and inform ESG? What tools does KKR use to measure growth and transparent operations?
ES: Collecting, measuring and analyzing thoughtful ESG data is a key focus for us and an area where we believe technology will play a particularly important role.
We want to be able to measure ESG performance the same way we measure financial performance, by defining the right and meaningful indicators for portfolio companies to gather data around and measure and monitor their performance over time.
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Technology helps streamline data collection. It allows us to identify patterns and trends that can inform our efforts to proactively manage ESG-related opportunities in our portfolio. The number of ESG-focused advisory firms and data solution providers has increased, and many are evolving to cover broader ESG data needs. For example, one of our portfolio companies, ERM, recently launched an AI-enabled ESG rating platform designed as an initial due diligence tool for private and public market investors.
We believe the need and demand for ESG reporting will only grow as disclosure requirements evolve and investors seek greater transparency of ESG risks and opportunities. Technology plays a key role in data collection and analysis, and we expect more new tools to be added in the coming years.
FA: How do you work with the KKR Capstone team to strategize and drive the transformation of portfolio companies?
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ES: The advantage of working at a place like KKR is the wealth of experience and internal and external ESG knowledge that helps with this work.
In addition to our investment team, which is primarily responsible for integrating ESG issues into the investment process, he works closely with our colleagues at KKR Capstone, Global Public Affairs and Global Impact to support our portfolio companies.
Last year we increased our team and added new skills. For example, at KKR Capstone we have sustainability and climate experts working with our companies to implement decarbonisation strategies. Over the past ten years, we’ve worked with KKR Capstone to support companies on ESG topics, from employee safety to responsible sourcing, inclusion and diversity.
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One example in Asia is our collaboration with renowned Australian brand The Arnott Group to achieve net zero operational emissions by 2040 and improve our ESG practices across the value chain. .
On social issues, the company is building on its diversity and inclusion practices, offering more diverse food options and improved nutritional guidance for its products. These are all steps that will serve the Arnott team well in the long run.
ES: As we engage our portfolio companies in various ESG issues and focus on business-related issues, there are three portfolio themes – climate, human capital and data responsibility – where we find major opportunities and risks for companies. Globally, including in Asia.
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On climate in particular, we believe that Asia’s energy transition offers unique opportunities given the large amount of global capital needed to facilitate the transition to net zero in emerging and developing economies.
One example of how we are supporting the transition is our investment in FirstGen, one of the largest independent power producers in the Philippines. While the company has relatively low natural gas emissions, it recognizes the need for a full transition to renewable energy and is exploring technologies and alternative fuels such as hydrogen. In 2016, First Gen decided not to build, develop or invest in coal-fired power plants.
In India, our renewable energy platform, Virescent Infrastructure, has also launched the country’s first renewable energy infrastructure trust (REIT) to fuel India’s efforts to meet its clean energy goals.
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ES: The social environment is constantly evolving and we believe that partnerships are key to growth as they allow us to learn from the expertise of experts who are dedicated to solving these issues. We do this by working with our company, investors, governments and NGOs to develop a deep understanding of the issues and stay at the forefront of emerging issues and expectations.
One of our external partners in this space is Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), a global non-profit organization working to build a just and sustainable world with a network of over 250 member companies and partners. We have also engaged with investors – often focused on best practices related to ESG issues.
With the impact of Covid-19 on communities, businesses and individuals, the topic of social and social sustainability initiatives is becoming a growing concern. In response, in April 2020 we launched a $50 million KKR facility, which includes commitments from KKR, our management and employees. This is a real innovation for KKR as an organization and is designed to support those most affected by the crisis and the resulting economic disruption.
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These efforts have extended to the Asia-Pacific region. There are several pillars of our efforts, including partnering with and funding nonprofits, helping small businesses with grants and resources, supporting employees at portfolio companies, and engaging our employees as leaders and changemakers in their communities. We are proud to be part of the solution to the challenges facing our shared communities.
ES: A lot actually! There is a lot of real motivation behind KKR’s ESG efforts and in the last year alone our sustainable investment team has almost tripled in size.
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