Webinar: Sustainability in VC – from ESG reporting to managing impact

A webinar summary of sustainability in Venture Capital, with guests from the Green European Tech fund (GET) and KfW Capital.
Jannic Horne
4 min
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Impact Nexus hosted a webinar on the topic of Sustainability in Venture Capital, featuring guests Isabelle Canu from the Green European Tech fund (GET) and Teresa Bardubitzki from KfW Capital.  

Speakers at Sustainability in Venture Capital webinar

In venture capital, it becomes increasingly clear that sustainability is not just about ticking regulatory boxes. It’s about active management and leveraging sustainability practices to mitigate risks and remain investible in the long term.

The webinar explored the following topics:

– Regulatory push for transparency through the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR)
– Limited Partner (LP) push for transparency and impact
– ESG performance to mitigate risks and remain investible (e.g. secure LP funding, achieve exits of companies)
– Impact performance to build attractive brands & attract funding (increasingly true for VCs & portfolio companies)
– Practitioner experiences/examples

The key goal of the webinar was for the audience to take away some key insights in terms of: What it means for them and their work? What are the developments? What conclusions can be taken away?

The key points of the webinar were:

ESG vs. Impact: One of the central questions posed during the webinar was the distinction between ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) and impact. Isabelle offered a comprehensive explanation, clarifying that ESG is primarily concerned with risk and compliance, focusing on evaluating businesses from these perspectives. On the other hand, impact assessment delves into the positive aspects of sustainability and seeks to measure the outcomes of sustainable practices. Isabelle emphasized the need to prioritize ESG as a foundation before progressing to impact measurement and reporting.

ESG and Impact for investors

Navigating the Regulatory Landscape: The webinar shed light on the intricate regulatory landscape surrounding sustainability. Isabelle highlighted the multitude of global standards, including the Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations Global Compact, and the Paris Climate Agreement, among others. However, the lack of coordination among these standards often leads to confusion and challenges for businesses. The significance of the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) and the EU taxonomy for venture capital and startups operating within the European Commission’s purview was emphasized. The importance of seeking expert guidance or leveraging tech solutions to navigate this regulatory maze effectively was also stressed.

Regulatory jungle

The Role of Purpose: The concept of purpose in the context of sustainability was further introduced. While ESG focuses on doing things right from a risk and compliance perspective, purpose represents the drive to do the right things. Purpose-driven ventures aim to make a positive impact and contribute to sustainability goals. By aligning purpose with ESG and impact measurement, businesses can ensure they are not only meeting regulatory requirements but also striving to make a meaningful difference.

Developing sustainable business models

The key drivers of momentum towards sustainability in VC: Theresa discussed the following three main drivers – 1. regulation, 2. investors and 3. soft factors, like customers and employees.

Overall, the session served as a step stone for venture capitalists, startups, and industry professionals to grasp the importance of integrating sustainability into their investment strategies, fostering a more environmentally and socially conscious approach to business.

To review the recording, click here


Could you give a real-life example of a venture capital firm that effectively have leveraged ESG and Impact Assessment to drive positive outcomes for both investors and portfolio companies?

Khosla Ventures is a venture capital firm known for its investments in clean technology and sustainability-focused companies. They have supported numerous startups working on renewable energy, clean transportation, and sustainable agriculture. One notable example is their investment in LanzaTech, a company that converts carbon emissions into ethanol, reducing greenhouse gas emissions while creating a valuable product. We think that Khosla Ventures' approach demonstrates how aligning investments with ESG criteria can lead to both positive environmental outcomes and financial success.

What specific steps or best practices can venture capital firms adopt to navigate the regulatory maze of SFDR and ensure compliance with evolving sustainability regulations?

Navigating the regulatory landscape surrounding sustainability, particularly regulations like the SFDR can be complex, but here are some specific steps and best practices that could be adopted to ensure compliance:

  1. Stay Informed: Venture capital firms should prioritize staying informed about evolving sustainability regulations, including SFDR and other relevant standards or directives. This involves regularly monitoring updates from regulatory authorities, industry associations, and legal experts to understand new requirements and compliance obligations.
  2. Conduct Regulatory Assessments: Venture capital firms should conduct comprehensive assessments of their existing practices and policies to identify areas that may require adjustments to align with SFDR and other sustainability regulations. This involves reviewing investment criteria, due diligence processes, reporting frameworks, and internal governance structures.
  3. Seek Expert Guidance: Given the complexity of sustainability regulations, venture capital firms may benefit from seeking expert guidance from legal counsel, compliance specialists, or sustainability consultants. These professionals can provide valuable insights and assistance in interpreting regulatory requirements, developing compliance strategies, and implementing necessary changes.
  4. Integrate Sustainability into Due Diligence: Venture capital firms should integrate sustainability considerations into their due diligence processes when evaluating potential investments. This involves assessing environmental, social, and governance factors alongside traditional financial metrics to identify risks and opportunities associated with sustainability issues.
  5. Enhance Transparency and Reporting: SFDR emphasizes transparency and disclosure of sustainability-related information. Venture capital firms should enhance their transparency and reporting practices to meet SFDR requirements, including disclosing how they integrate sustainability factors into investment decisions and the impact of those decisions on financial performance.
  6. Invest in Technology Solutions: Investing in technology solutions, such as specialized software platforms or data analytics tools, can streamline compliance efforts and facilitate data collection, analysis, and reporting related to sustainability. These solutions can help venture capital firms efficiently manage and report on sustainability metrics required by SFDR and other regulations.
  7. Engage with Stakeholders: Engaging with stakeholders, including investors, portfolio companies, industry peers, and regulatory authorities, can provide valuable insights and support in navigating sustainability regulations. Collaboration and dialogue with these stakeholders can help venture capital firms better understand expectations, share best practices, and address emerging challenges.
What are some insights or recommendations on how venture capital firms can identify and evaluate purpose-driven ventures, and how such initiatives can contribute to long-term financial success and positive social impact?

Identifying and evaluating purpose-driven ventures is crucial for VC firms seeking to align their investment strategies with sustainability goals while also driving long-term financial success. Here are some insights and recommendations on how they can accomplish this:

  1. Define Criteria for Purpose-Driven Ventures: VC firms should establish clear criteria for identifying purpose-driven ventures based on their alignment with sustainability goals and their potential to generate positive social and environmental impact. This may include criteria such as mission alignment, measurable impact metrics, innovative solutions to societal challenges, and a commitment to transparency and accountability.
  2. Conduct Due Diligence on Impact Metrics: When evaluating purpose-driven ventures, VC firms should conduct rigorous due diligence to assess the effectiveness and credibility of their impact metrics and reporting practices. This involves examining the methodologies used to measure impact, the reliability of data sources, and the extent to which impact outcomes are integrated into business operations and decision-making processes.
  3. Assess Market Opportunity and Scalability: While social and environmental impact are important considerations, venture capital firms should also evaluate the market opportunity and scalability of purpose-driven ventures. This includes assessing the size of the target market, the potential for revenue generation, the competitive landscape, and the scalability of the business model to drive growth and profitability over the long term.
  4. Evaluate Leadership and Governance: Strong leadership and governance structures are essential for the success of purpose-driven ventures. VC firms should evaluate the quality of the management team, their track record, and their commitment to the organization's mission and values. Additionally, assessing the governance practices and stakeholder engagement processes can provide insights into the venture's ability to manage risks and navigate challenges effectively.
  5. Consider ESG Risks and Opportunities: Purpose-driven ventures are not immune to ESG risks. VC firms should conduct thorough assessments of ESG risks and opportunities associated with potential investments to identify potential risks that may impact financial performance and mitigate them through proactive management strategies.
  6. Support Value Creation and Impact Measurement: Beyond financial investment, VC firms can provide value-added support to purpose-driven ventures by offering strategic guidance, industry expertise, and access to networks and resources. Additionally, supporting ventures in developing robust impact measurement frameworks can enhance transparency, accountability, and credibility, while also enabling investors to track progress and demonstrate social and environmental outcomes.
  7. Align Incentives with Impact Goals: To drive long-term financial success and positive social impact, venture capital firms should align incentives with impact goals by incorporating impact-related performance metrics into investment agreements and incentive structures. This can help ensure that financial returns are closely linked to the achievement of social and environmental objectives, motivating both investors and portfolio companies to prioritize impact alongside profitability.

By adopting these insights and recommendations, VC firms can effectively identify and evaluate purpose-driven ventures that have the potential to generate both financial returns and positive social impact, thereby contributing to a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

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