As pressure mounts on fund managers globally to scrutinise their investment and lending activities, science-based targets (SBTs) are poised to become the leading framework to provide a pathway for companies to decarbonise their business.
Grist worked with RBS International on a survey of alternative investment funds to better understand their adoption of SBTs as part of their ESG strategy, and the barriers that remain in doing so.
The campaign provided a full 12 months’ worth of powerful internal and external activity that will directly impact a fund’s journey to net zero. It has been a huge success and is now shortlisted for the FS Forum’s Most Effective Use of a Small Budget award.
The transition to net zero
COP26 provided a stark reminder of the investment gap in climate initiatives, placing mounting pressure on financial institutions to invest in the transition to net zero.
To ensure their carbon-positive investments are meaningful and measurable, financial services firms must first adhere to a shared framework. The Science Based Targets initiative provides such a framework but while much attention has so far focussed on corporates, funds are playing catch up.
RBS International has made addressing the climate challenge - and supporting its customers through the transition - a core part of its purpose-led strategy.
As such, the bank needed an engagement tool to facilitate conversations with customers highlighting the importance of SBTs and answering questions like: Are funds looking to adopt SBTs? If not, why not? How can they create a clear roadmap for the future? And what help do they need to support their net zero transition?
Insight to guide the sustainability journey
To help guide funds, Grist undertook extensive desk research on the market, spoke to leading journalists and other business leaders and facilitated a brainstorming session with RBS International’s client-facing team.
Feedback from the internal team revealed that many funds were at the start of their sustainability journey and were looking for more help. RBS International did not have all the answers. So, they wanted to create an environment of shared learning and help the market to engage in positive dialogue around this important issue.
We therefore proposed a survey and interview approach to provide a solid data-driven framework for future discussion.
In a niche market that is notoriously difficult to reach, we solicited responses from 125 senior decision-makers at alternative investment funds across four jurisdictions and in five sectors.
This was followed up by six deep-dive interviews with industry influencers to uncover best practice.
A 12-month integrated communications plan
The resulting research is being used as the nucleus of a 12-month integrated communications campaign, with extensive external internal and engagement plans, executed in two phases.
To aid internal engagement, we created an extensive toolkit including conversation starters, FAQs, a ‘battlecard’ of key findings, and a stream of short-form content for client facing teams to use as part of their client contact strategy.
The media took centre stage for the launch with an extensive PR campaign including targeted trade media. This was supported with a focused LinkedIn campaign, podcast and launch event.
External engagement included a flagship report, Pressure is mounting, and wide range of assets such as blogs, online display ads, banners, social memes, infographics and video, all used to drive traffic to the download. The assets will be rolled out across 12 months to continue the conversation.
RBS International also had committed sponsorship at several industry events throughout the year. With ESG high on their agenda, the research gives them a natural topic for speaking opportunities. Client roundtables continue to be used to engage with clients one-on-one to better understand the help they need so RBS International can pivot their services accordingly.
The survey approach meant that RBS International had contacted over 22% of the target market before the outreach programme began in earnest and the interview process ensured that they had talked to influential industry spokespeople to provide valuable context to the key data points.
A lasting legacy
Sustainability is a strategic priority for RBS International. It’s not just a box to tick in their annual report: it has its own commitments to net zero and wants to help clients with theirs.
Internally, RBS International recognises that addressing the climate challenge is everyone’s responsibility, not just one department’s. The research has unified their message and provided a single rallying cry. It has also provided the opportunity to learn.
The research helped RBS International understand where their clients are in their journey and how they can support them in moving forward, leading to long term sustainable benefits for both.
For clients, the research explores the opportunities and challenges their peers are facing. It shows them they are not alone and provides pointers to best practice. That is a genuine value exchange.
The research has clearly hit a chord. RBS International is now exploring the creation of a more formal think tank to take a deeper dive into some of the issues raised and is launching a pulse survey to check on the progress made.
RBS International believes that understanding the challenges faced today will ultimately enable those responsible for decarbonising their institutions’ portfolios to meet their net zero targets between now and 2050.
The campaign has created a lasting legacy and didn’t cost the earth.