Responsible business

Responsible investor

We strive to be responsible stewards of our clients' assets within a framework of good governance and transparency

As an active investor and manager of substantial global equities, fixed income and real estate assets, we proactively seek to capture opportunities that help deliver sustainable growth and returns for our clients.

Responsible Investor

Being a responsible investor is integral to our business proposition and defines how we act in the marketplace. Core to our investment philosophy is the belief that effective stewardship benefits companies, investors and the economy. Well managed companies that look to the future are better positioned to navigate the risks and challenges inherent in business and achieve sustainable performance and long-term value creation.

Established in 1998, Columbia Threadneedle’s global Responsible Investment (RI) team of 14 is embedded in the investment department, located in London and Minneapolis. The team includes experts in RI analytics, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) research and integration, stewardship and engagement, proxy voting, sustainable outcomes and thematic RI research. The team works alongside our portfolio managers and analysts on the integration of material ESG analysis into our research and investment process, company engagement, proxy voting, ESG policy issues and client reporting. This capability and culture also allow us to innovate and deliver unique solutions for our clients. In addition to our range of funds, we provide segregated solutions for clients seeking alignment to certain sustainable thematic outcomes or otherwise requiring RI considerations to be more clearly reflected in investment selection and portfolio construction.

As at end 31 December 2019 we manage approx. US$30 billion in RI assets across equities, fixed income, commodities, real estate and infrastructure. Our outcome-oriented solutions are informed by our sustainable outcomes framework, which helps us assess the extent to which a company’s or issuer’s products and services provide solutions to global socioeconomic challenges. We subscribe to and are a signatory to the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). The PRI frames our approach globally, with high level implementation of the principles as follows:

Key industry associations​

  • Founding member of the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).

  • Active participant in a range of key industry initiatives including Investment Association committees, ICMA’s Social Bond Principles, SASB working groups, PLSA Stewardship Advisory Group.
  • Commercial partnerships with Big Issue Invest, INCO, Carbon Trust and Sustainalytics.

As at end 31 December 2019 we manage approx. US$30 billion in RI assets across equities, fixed income, commodities, real estate and infrastructure. Our outcome-oriented solutions are informed by our sustainable outcomes framework, which helps us assess the extent to which a company’s or issuer’s products and services provide solutions to global socioeconomic challenges. We subscribe to and are a signatory to the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). The PRI frames our approach globally, with high level implementation of the principles as follows:

  1. We incorporate Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes.We have an integrated approach to responsible investment and ESG research that is embedded within our investment approach, and is supported by our culture of collaboration, sharing of research and ideas, and robust debate. In developing our understanding of a business, we consider its approach to managing environmental, social and governance issues, as well as any controversies that may have arisen.
    Supporting this effort, in March 2019 we launched an innovative responsible investment ratings system that combines an assessment of a company’s financial stewardship with a view on how well it manages its Environmental, Social and Governance risks. By combining both aspects into a single, forward-looking company rating from 1 to 5 this proprietary tool reflects our conviction that prudent management of financial and ESG factors is important to a company’s ability to create long-term, sustainable value.
    Utilising data science and cloud computing, our RI ratings provide our global investment teams with a more robust responsible investment framework and enhanced analysis of over 5,500 listed equities across the world, complementing our existing fundamental research. An evidence-based and forward-looking ratings system, it provides them with further insight into a company’s leadership, governance, culture and operational standards of practice, focusing on issues that are material to long-term performance. This unique tool enhances our ability to evaluate investments on behalf of all our clients and puts real-time, actionable intelligence in the hands of our analysts and portfolio managers.
  2. We are active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices.We actively vote on our shares globally and have a thorough internal dialogue as well as corporate dialogue globally. We follow regional voting principles and consider local market practice.
  3. We seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest.We place substantial value on transparency by companies and encourage greater transparency in our dialogue around ESG performance.
  4. We promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry.We actively participate in external forums and discussions where relevant and are actively involved with the PRI secretariat.
  5. We work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles.We are committed to meaningful collaboration with other investors in company dialogue and wider ESG related issues. We consider consistency of purpose and conflict of interest policies.
  6. We report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.Columbia Threadneedle reports annually in EMEA and in the US on our progress in responsible investment both to clients and to the PRI. Our annual PRI submissions are publicly available. In addition, regional policies can be viewed on our website. As a PRI signatory we are assessed annually on how we incorporate ESG issues into investment practices across asset classes. In 2019 Columbia Threadneedle was awarded a clean sweep of A and A+ ratings, as set out in the table below.

2019 PRI ratings

Columbia Threadneedle score
Industry median
Strategy & Governance
Listed Equity – Incorporation
Listed Equity – Active Ownership
Fixed Income – Sovereign, Supranationals and Agencies
Fixed Income – Corporate Financial
Fixed income – Corporate Non-Financial

Stewardship and proxy voting

Our stewardship activities intensify our understanding of the risks and opportunities that bear on our ability to deliver sustainable long-term value for clients. We actively engage with companies and issuers to gain deeper research insights, build relationships and influence for change.
Our approach to engagement and voting is based on collaboration between our portfolio managers, analysts and RI team members. When deciding whether to engage, we consider various factors including:
  • The material significance of an issue to the company.
  • The risk to our clients.
  • The size of our holding.
  • Our opportunity to collaborate.
  • Our ability to effect change.
As an active manager, we do not outsource voting to third parties. We vote in consideration of all relevant factors to support the best economic outcome in the long run, in accordance with our corporate governance and proxy voting principles and our proxy voting policy.
We view our voting as one of the most effective ways of signalling approval (or otherwise) of a company’s governance, management, board, and strategy and an important way to drive positive change. Our highly engaged and principled approach sees us regularly opposing items where proxy voting advisers are more lenient and supporting where they are more aggressive. We regularly withhold support from individual directors and cast dissenting votes based on pay-related concerns.
Each year we cast proxy votes on approximately 6,500 shareholder meetings across 70 countries. In 2020 we have taken a more systematic approach to voting on gender diversity at senior management as well as board level. We publish our voting decisions seven days after the relevant general meeting and provide fund-specific reports to our clients.

Columbia Threadneedle Proxy voting 2020

Source: Columbia Threadneedle Investments, ISS ProxyExchange, 31 December 2020.

Research intensity

We believe that RI research is fundamental research. That is why our RI analysts are now embedded within our global central research team, playing a key role in the assessment of ESG issues and supporting the integration of RI across the business. Our RI analysts work across three principal workstreams: Thematic research, Stewardship and Voting, and Policy and Strategy. They provide unique insights into the risks and opportunities that can enhance investment performance, but which are not otherwise uncovered through traditional analysis. In addition to collaborating with portfolio managers and fundamental analysts across the organisation, they also monitor portfolios and investments and support engagement with issuers of the securities we invest in.
Our proprietary RI ratings provide the foundation to this analysis. This robust, data-driven and evidence-based framework allows our investment team to assess material exposures for over 8,000 companies worldwide. The ratings give insight into a company’s leadership, governance, culture and operational standards of practice, focusing on issues that are material to long-term performance. This sophisticated tool provides our analysts and portfolio managers with unique, actionable RI insights.
In addition, our RI analysts conduct independent thematic sustainability research which provides risk assessments and investment ideas across multiple sectors. In determining the quality of the ESG risk framework, they attach particular significance to the materiality map developed by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB®), which identifies the most financially material ESG risk factors for 77 distinct industry types. In identifying active investment opportunities, they also focus on eight of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that we deem the most material to investments.

By considering the additive insights of ESG factors provided by our analysts, our portfolio managers can better assess the sustainability of companies they (plan to) invest in, ensuring long-term value creation for our clients.

Managing real estate responsibility - our five-stage approach

Buildings are on the front line in the fight against climate change, as real estate consumes around 40% of the world’s energy and contributes up to 30% of its annual greenhouse gas emissions4. With the UK committed to cutting its carbon emissions by 80% by 20505, the country’s real estate owners have an important part to play in achieving this reduction.
Key to our approach is an understanding of the environmental and social risks posed by real estate assets. We focus on mitigating those risks and seeking continuous improvement by assessing the environmental and social impacts throughout the lifecycle of our property assets. This approach is ingrained within the day-to-day activities of our business.
  1. Property investment (asset acquisition) Our fund managers carry out forensic due diligence and comprehensively survey all properties considered for acquisition. They look at factors including energy performance/MEES (minimum energy efficiency standards), environmental risks/impact (including flood risk), and areas for potential improvement in terms of sustainability performance.
  2. Strategic asset management Our asset managers develop unique strategies to add value to every building we manage. They consider areas including environmental, energy and water efficiency, waste management and sustainability best practices. They also look at ways to promote health and well-being and community engagement. Finally, our asset managers seek opportunities to promote information sharing and co-operation with tenants, to enable sustainability strategies to be jointly implemented by the occupier and the management team.
  3. Refurbishment and building improvement Refurbishments carried out by our asset managers offer the greatest potential to improve the environmental and social impact of our buildings. Our Refurbishment Guide promotes high sustainability standards, and construction projects incorporate a set of minimum requirements relating to: environmental management; building quality and flexibility; health and well-being; energy efficiency; transport; water; building materials; waste management; and ecology and pollution.
  4. Property management We are active managers who seek to continually improve the day-to-day environmental impact of our buildings while maintaining high levels of occupier satisfaction and engagement. This is achieved by dedicated Oversight Managers who collaborate with third-party managing agents to deliver objectives aligned to clearly defined targets set out in our Sustainability Road Map (see next page). Oversight Managers are also responsible for monitoring health and safety on all our properties, ensuring oversight through monthly reporting, meetings, and independent annual audits.
  5. Risk and governance Our Real Estate team benefits from rigorous risk and governance controls. We have an integrated Real Estate Governance team providing ‘first line’ risk and governance oversight. The team also has a liaison function with Group Investment and Operations Risk and Compliance (‘second line’ functions), and with Audit (‘third line’) as required. Our investment and management process controls are also independently audited on an annual basis as part of our company’s ISAE reporting obligations.

4 Sustainable real estate investment: Implementing the Paris Climate agreement – an action framework, PRI, 2016
5 Source:

Net zero in UK real estate

Columbia Threadneedle owns and manages 879 properties, extending to over 5,000 tenancies, across 16 UK real estate funds valued at around £7.2 billion1. We know we must play a role in reducing the impact of our real estate portfolio on the environment – on behalf of ourselves, our investors, our occupiers and our communities.
To do this, we have made the commitment to achieve net zero carbon across our UK real estate portfolio by 2050 or sooner. This commitment goes beyond our landlord operations, covering whole building emissions, including our occupiers’. Each fund will set interim targets to measure and drive our progression towards the ultimate 2050 target.
The scope of our net zero commitments
Given the nature of real estate and its diverse stakeholders, we know we cannot achieve this alone. We have created a framework under which we are engaging with our investors, occupiers, property managers, environmental advisers and our supply chain to create sustainable long-term value.
Working together we have the skills and effective partnerships to set clear targets, plans and procedures. This collaborative approach underpins our primary objective to deliver strong investment returns for our clients by enhancing the underlying real estate assets, thereby reducing energy consumption, carbon emissions and running costs.
1 As at 30 June 2021