Data Drives Ravenel and His Work
Originally posted on SASB
On the demand side, savvy investors are seeking out better data on corporate sustainability performance. On the supply side, issuers are disclosing more information on environmental, social, and governance factors. Why, then, is neither side satisfied?
As the tension unfolds, Curtis Ravenel, the newest member of SASB’s Board of Directors, may have the best seat in the house—but he’s not just watching.
“We sit at the nexus between issuers and investors,” Ravenel says of Bloomberg LP, where he serves as Global Head of Sustainable Business & Finance. “I talk to a lot of companies and a lot of investors and it’s confusing,” he says. “There’s just too much information, and it’s hard for them to determine which data are most important for them to focus on.”
Bloomberg was founded in 1981 on the idea that greater transparency in financial markets leads to better investment decisions. Part of Ravenel’s job is to extend that principle beyond financial data (which is highly standardized) to sustainability data (most of which is not).
Like most innovation, it’s not often easy.
Creating Shared Value
Ravenel’s interest in sustainability dates back to the early 1990s, when he worked for the Recycling Advisory Council in Washington, D.C. While working on full-cost accounting and life-cycle analysis projects there, he had a light-bulb moment that stuck with him as he moved through his financial career. “The more I steeped myself in real corporate work,” Ravenel says, “the more I got interested—or re-interested, really—in this idea of environmental economics and the fallacy that these are mutually exclusive endeavors.”
Neoclassical economics assumes that trade-offs between corporate and social benefits are unavoidable, but Ravenel didn’t necessarily see it that way. Recognizing that a company’s competitiveness is inextricably linked with the health of the community around it, he was inspired in 2006 to write a proposal to create a sustainability group at Bloomberg.
“I said, ‘Look, you can save money. Why would you not do this?’” Ravenel says. “I just beat the drum hard and tried to show the value.”
Building on the initiative’s early success—it had saved the company about $28 million over three years—in 2009 he spearheaded an effort to add sustainability data to Bloomberg’s signature terminal, a financial analysis tool that today boasts more than 320,000 subscribers in 170-plus countries.
Terminal users—from portfolio managers and buy-side analysts to risk managers and CIOs—have taken notice.
“What we see all the time is a big increase in use of the [sustainability] data,” Ravenel says. “Usage grows about 50 percent year over year.”
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