The Luxembourg Finance Labelling Agency (LuxFLAG) is an independent and international non-profit organization, founded in 2006, which aims to promote the raising of capital for the sustainable investment sector by awarding a recognizable label to eligible investment products. Interview with Denise Voss and Sachin S Vankalas, respectively Chairwoman and General Manager of LuxFLAG.
What are the main principles of ESG labelling?
The goal of a label is to reassure investors that what they have bought or are considering buying complies with the label criteria. The tremendous growth in LuxFLAG labels especially over the last two years; e.g. 76% in 2020, has its roots in the regulatory push behind the European Green Deal, but also in growing demand from investors, who increasingly value a label when investing in ESG products. The LuxFLAG label application process is based on transparent criteria for each label, available on LuxFLAG’s website. For each label application the LuxFLAG team follows a strict review and validation process; this process has been ISAE 3000 certified since 2019. Successful applications are presented to an eligibility committee of experts for their review and recommendation to the LuxFLAG Board, which ultimately approves (or not) the awarding of a LuxFLAG label.
“By now we understand that Sustainable Finance is not just another type of investment. It’s a complete mindset shift.”
What is your opinion on greenwashing and how does LuxFlag help mitigate it?
The EU’s focus on ESG means heightened demand for ESG financial products; increasing the risk of “greenwashing” and increasing the importance of labels. LuxFLAG continues to enhance transparency and the strength of its labels, including alignment of label criteria to the requirements of the EU Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR). LuxFLAG awards 5 labels to compliant investment products; the ESG Label, for products that focus on a sustainable transition to ESG goals, and 4 impact or thematic labels: Climate, Environment, Microfinance, Green Bonds. Products with an ESG label must comply with Article 8 of the SFDR, while the 4 impact/thematic labels generally comply with Article 9 of SFDR (or Article 8). Finally, the quality of the label criteria and the label application process is of utmost importance to LuxFLAG and is why LuxFLAG first sought ISAE 3000 certification, the first labelling agency in Europe to do so.
How important is education to the mission of LuxFLAG?
Education is vital to LuxFLAG’s mission to support the financing of sustainable development. Through its Associate Member programme LuxFLAG brings together the community of financial centre actors, where education and sharing of best practices plays a central role. The asset management industry is at various stages of the sustainable finance journey, so raising the level of understanding throughout the ecosystem can help ensure not only that regulatory expectations are met but that the deadlines set out in the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are met as fully as possible. LuxFLAG organizes webinars for further education and its flagship event is the LuxFLAG Sustainable Investment Week (LSIW); giving Associate Members an opportunity to show the community what they are doing and to engage in discussions about how we can all move forward. That is the spirit in which the LSIW has been developed and a reason for its success.
In line with the increasing amount of EU ESG regulation, what opportunities and challenges do you identify in this sector?
The EU legislative initiatives aim at reorienting capital flows towards sustainable finance and foster long termism and transparency. By now we understand that Sustainable Finance is not just another type of investment. It’s a complete mindset shift. This means financial market participants would need to be aware of their own positions and contributions in the development of a sustainable future through their investments. This would lead to more investment opportunities in ESG but also those identified within the framework of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and would pave the path for new investment strategies and products. However, the industry would also need to develop tools to understand and measure the value we seek through such types of investments, as it is imperative that issues such as climate change and social inequalities affect investment portfolios. Asset Managers are required to prepare, use and disclose non-financial information in line with the new regulation leading to both clarity and complexity. However, those who would manage this process well would also enjoy a competitive advantage.