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Recognizing the complexity, ambiguity and reliability of ESG scores – as well as their fitness for use – S&P Global announced it will no longer issue numerical scores as ESG ratings for corporate borrowers. According to Financial Times on Monday, the firm will now use only narrative text to convey their assessment of ESG factors relevant to corporate debt:

“‘We have determined that the dedicated analytical narrative paragraphs in our credit rating reports are most effective at providing detail and transparency on ESG credit factors material to our rating analysis,’ the rating agency said…

‘The ESG credit indicators were intended to illustrate and summarise the relevance of ESG credit factors on our rating analysis,’ S&P said. ‘This update does not affect our ESG principles criteria or our research and commentary on ESG-related topics, including the influence that ESG factors can have on creditworthiness.'”

Some may see S&P’s motivation for dropping the scores as bowing to current anti-ESG political sentiment, while others feel that the scores were simply not fit-for-use. Even S&P admitted in the article that “ESG credit indicators were not sustainability ratings or a standalone assessment of a company’s ESG performance.” This development is another example of growing pains in the relatively new “mainstreaming” of ESG in investment due diligence – and why companies should simply continue executing sound ESG programs/strategies. I expect further changes are ahead of us that will be little more than distractions in reality.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile