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How to read an ESG rating

Ida Kassa web profile 400x400
Ida Kassa Johannesen

Head of ESG investments, Saxo Bank.

Summary:  Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) risks refer to the potential negative impact a company can have on the environment and society. Companies’ ESG risk ratings can help you reduce risk and enhance long-term performance, but do you know how to interpret such ratings? Check out the article below to get a better understanding of how to read an ESG risk rating.

How to read an ESG risk rating

ESG risk ratings measure a company’s exposure to ESG factors and how well a company manages those risks. ESG risk ratings are used by investors to identify companies with strong ESG practices and can help investors make better informed decisions. The ratings which are made up of a score and a category are available on Saxo’s platforms under the sustainability tab. 

What are ESG risk scores and how to interpret them 

In addition to the ESG risk score, there are 3 individual scores: an Environmental score, a Social score and a Governance score. The ESG risk score (the “score”) is made up of the 3 ESG pillars and is the sum of the individual Environmental, Social and Governance scores. The score which focuses on ESG risk, ranges from 0 to 100. The lower the score the better as this indicates low risk. A score of 0 is equivalent to no risk, while a score of 100 indicates severe risk. In the example below, Tesla's ESG risk score is 25 and the E, S and G scores are 3.3, 14.1 and 7.8 respectively. Tesla falls in the medium risk category.

    Tesla V2 708x268

    What do Environmental, Social and Governance scores measure?

    The Environmental score, the Social score and the Governance score measure the degree to which a company's value may be at risk driven by ESG factors.

    • Environmental factors include carbon footprint, use of natural resources, pollution and management of waste

    • Social factors are associated with workers’ safety and well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion, supply chain management and community engagement

    • Governance factors cover ethics and transparency, corporate practices (accounting, risk and audit), executive remuneration and the board of directors’ composition and quality

    What are ESG risk categories 

    There 5 ESG categories: Negligible, Low, Medium, High and Severe. Negligible and low categories are above average, Medium risk is average and High and Severe risks are below average

    • Negligible risk is assigned to companies with ESG risk scores ranging from 0-10 and is associated with the color dark green on Saxo's platforms
    • Low risk is assigned to companies with ESG risk scores ranging from 10-20 and is associated with the color light green on Saxo's platforms
    • Medium risk is assigned to companies with ESG risk scores ranging from 20-30 and is associated with the color yellow on Saxo's  platforms
    • High risk is assigned to companies with ESG risk scores ranging from 30-40 and is associated with the color orange on Saxo's platforms
    • Severe risk is assigned to companies with ESG risk scores ranging from 40-100 and is associated with the color red on Saxo's platforms

    The risk categories are absolute as they reflect the level of unmanaged ESG risk a company is exposed to. This means that companies from different sectors can be compared based on their category. 

    A company will have a good ESG risk rating score either because it is well-governed and manages its ESG risks well or because it is involved in activities that have low exposure to ESG risks.

    How to read an ESG risk rating 

    Which one is better? a company with a score of 25 or one with a score of 30? Based on Sustainalytics’ methodology, the company with the lower score is better than the company with the higher score, in terms of ESG risk. Looking at the scores below, Tesla, which has a score of 25 and is in the medium risk category, ranks better than Amazon which has a score of 30 and falls within the high risk category.

    Tesla 1 708x268
    Amazon 708x268

    It is worth noting however, that there are nuances to ESG risk scores. Investors who care about particular ESG factors should take a closer look at the individual components of the scores, namely the E, the S and G scores. For example, though Tesla and Alphabet have almost identical scores, 25 and 24 respectively, there are differences when it comes to their respective Environmental and Governance scores. Surprisingly, Alphabet’s E score is better than Tesla’s. Though Tesla’s contribution to a greener world is unrivalled, Alphabet has made significant strides over the years, achieving carbon neutrality in 2007 and matching 100% of its global electricity usage with renewable energy since 2017. 

    Alphabet 708x268

    Where to find ESG risk ratings on Saxo's platforms

    ESG risk ratings are available on Saxo’s platform under the sustainability tab. The ratings are provided by Sustainalytics, an independent 3rd party owned by Morningstar. To find out more about a company's ESG scores, one could dig even deeper by reviewing the company's sustainability report, to get a better understanding of the ESG risks a company is exposed to, and the ESG practices used to handle those risks.   


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