About the author: impak, the independent impact rating agency, regularly publishes content providing transparent data on the social and environmental impact of companies. By doing so, it aims to accelerate the transformation towards a stakeholder economy generating an overall positive contribution to society.
About the financial commentator: With nearly €14.7 billion in assets under management, VEGA Investment Managers is the wealth management expertise arm of the BPCE Group – the second largest banking group in France. VEGA IM designs tailor-made financial solutions through its four core businesses: Collective Management, Management Under Mandate, Premium Advisory Management and Fund Selection in open architecture. The company is particularly recognized for its expertise in European markets and its “Growth” management style and has developed a Responsible Investor approach; 10 UCIs in the range are labelled SRI (figures as of 06/30/2022).
The impak Battle - VEGA Responsible Transformation Series
Transportation is an integral part of the climate crisis. This sector represented 16.2% of total global emissions in 2016 according to the United Nations. Two modes are often used for comparison: air transport, which accounts for 1.9% of global emissions, and rail transport, which accounts for 0.4%. In relative terms, emissions per passenger and per distance travelled are between 30 and 50 times higher for a flight than for a trip by train (figures vary depending on the model, the fuel used and the cleanliness of the electricity consumed in the case of electric trains).
Today's face-off is on a complementary subject: the study of the environmental and social impacts of the manufacture of trains and airplanes played out between Airbus and Alstom.
🏭 Before the trip comes manufacturing
This battle pits two manufacturers against each other: Airbus, active in the aerospace sector, and Alstom, a supplier to the rail sector. The study compares their environmental and social impacts, going far beyond their emissions, and more importantly their efforts to mitigate the various impacts of their activities. In this study, we ask: Are there significant differences between the players in the transportation industry's supply chain? And can these differences rebalance the emissions gap between rail and air transportation?
This impak Battle is based on 2020 data published by both companies.
According to the impact methodology, Airbus has no activities that generate positive impacts. Two potential activities could not be retained because the (insufficient) data provided by the company did not allow us to assess its financial materiality. These two activities, related to the space flight industry, are slightly outside the scope of this analysis.
Alstom: 100/500 Winner
Conversely, Alstom has two confirmed positive activities and a third activity that is potentially aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The first is the manufacture of mass transit solutions that run on electricity or hybrid engines. In fact, 48.45% of the company's revenue comes from the sale of these trains and locomotives that run on sustainable alternative fuels. This activity contributes to SDG 9.4 by spreading the use of energy-efficient technologies.
Secondly, Alstom contributes to SDG 9.5 with its research for improving the energy consumption and environmental footprint of its trains. Net R&D expenditures represent 3.75% of the company's total costs, which is considered financially material. These two activities are considered B since they benefit the stakeholders, which in this case, are its customers in the industrials sector.
Finally, Alstom has a third activity that potentially generates a positive impact: the repair and modernization of existing trains in order to improve their energy consumption. However, due to a lack of data, it couldn’t be retained.
Why VEGA IM has chosen Alstom
Choosing the rail industry was obvious given VEGA Transformation Responsable's desire to invest in low-carbon transport. We chose the French group Alstom, the world's second-largest rail equipment manufacturer, while the current market leader is Chinese and very focused on its domestic market.
Alstom operates in three business segments: rolling stock (high-speed trains, metros, streetcars), services (maintenance, spare parts) and signalling systems.
We are particularly confident about the fundamentals of the rail sector, which is supported in the long term by the development of urbanization, upgrades of aging infrastructure, strong stimuli focused on rail and the decarbonization of the transportation sector.
The group's order book exceeds €80 billion, providing good projections of future growth.
Analysis completed on October 26 2022.
Mitigation of negative impacts
Of its 10 material negative activities, 3 are rated Z, meaning they may negatively contribute to the corresponding SDGs. Let's take a closer look at these Z scores. The first is related to SDG 7 and focuses on the company's energy consumption. As a manufacturing company, Airbus consumes energy in the processing of raw materials, assembly and coating of aircraft. However, the company does not identify this high energy consumption and does not communicate any practices to reduce it, therefore is deserving of its first Z.
The second Z is related to SDG 9 and concerns the health and well-being of consumers. Indeed, Airbus has been involved in a controversy related to the sale of underperforming aircraft with higher risks of crashing.
Finally, the third Z is related to SDG 12 on accountability for impacts related to the use of defence equipment. Multiple controversies surfaced regarding the company’s involvement in ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Israel, and Egypt through the supply of surveillance aircraft, missiles, and planes.
Alstom: 81/300 Winner
Alstom has 13 negative impacts related to its train manufacturing activities and signalling systems. All 13 were addressed by the company, which also provided mitigation activities and indicators for all of them either partially or in full.
Although Alstom mitigates these 13 material negative impacts, its value chain management is rated Z due to a significant controversy. A direct supplier to Alstom is accused of having operations in China that benefit from the forced labor of Uyghurs. Faced with this accusation, the audits and the charter signed by suppliers to reduce the environmental and social effects of its supply chain have been put into question.
This Z has decreased the company's negative score and also explains the low positive score.
Airbus: 68/200 Alstom: 113/200 Winner
This score subsection was the tightest of the battle between the two companies, although Alstom wins again. The difference is marked by the integration of an impact mission within Alstom. Indeed, contributing to the development of accessible public transport with a low energy profile is at the heart of its business model. In addition, it runs an annual campaign inviting every employee to propose ideas for new processors, new products and environmental advances, which is groundbreaking from Alstom and showcases its openness to all company employees. Finally, Alstom has a more developed stakeholder engagement program than Airbus, which better integrates the opinions of its stakeholders into the company's decision-making. process.
Alstom wins 🎉
With a final score of 294 points, Alstom comes out on top while Airbus scored only 104 points. Alstom takes the lead thanks to the positive impacts it generates (i.e. 48.45% of its operations) and the mitigation activities to counter all its material negative impacts. Airbus, on the other hand, is penalized by its presence in the highly controversial defence sector, which slightly detracts from the duel between the air and rail transportation industries.
The Supply Chain
A company's supply chain is the network of actors that contribute to the production of a good, from the mining companies to those that sell the product to the consumer. This supply chain is important in any analysis of the environmental and social impacts of companies. In particular, it allows us to complete an impact study with those activities that are unknown and invisible to the end consumers. This case study focuses on companies that manufacture airplanes and trains, thus taking a deep dive into the supply chain of the transportation industry. In this impak battle, we went further into the sub-tiers of the transportation industry’s supply chain, touching upon the suppliers of these manufacturers with the Alstom controversy.
The methodology follows the IMP classification: A (Acts to avoid Harm), B (Benefits stakeholders), C (Contributes to solutions), and Z (Does or may cause harm). Note that according to our methodology, in the case of a Z, a certain penalty is assigned based on the following 3 factors: the type of Z (does cause harm or may cause harm), the repetition of the Z over time and, only in the case of a Z that ”does cause harm”, whether measures have been taken to mitigate this negative impact.
It is important to mention that companies may have some potential positive impacts that were not considered because of the limited information available or because they represent less than 0.01% of their activities. As positive impacts are based on their relationship to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they can overlap. The percentages of activities related to these impacts can therefore be non-cumulative.
The sub-score related to governance is based on several criteria analysing the integration of impact mechanisms within the company. Thus, the role of the various beneficiaries in decision-making, the analysis of its impacts within the value chain and the assignment of a team dedicated to the impact mission are all important criteria for this section.
Given the significant growth in transparency and sustainability among investors, one or two years can make a significant difference to impak Scores.
*VEGA Investment Managers is in no way responsible for the information contained in this article. The analysis of VEGA IM does not constitute investment advice or recommendation.
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