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Tell me a bit about Util.

Util is a London-based fintech company founded on the premise that capital allocation should maximise sustainable returns on investment. If investors are to start thinking seriously about non-financial returns, however, they need a metric that demonstrates what exactly success looks like. That’s what we’re creating.

Since inception in 2017, we’ve been selected for inclusion in the Investment Association’s inaugural fintech accelerator programme and advised on a number of key industry initiatives, including the Impact Investing Initiative and the Impact Management Project. We’ve received funding from a number of Oxford University-affiliated institutions, including Oxford Sciences Innovation.

What problem are you trying to solve?

Recent years have seen an incredible and exponential uptick in global demand for sustainable funds. Unfortunately, non-financial data has failed to keep up.

While there are a plethora of providers, there is little agreement between them. If providers disagree on the criteria, scope, and relative weight of ESG considerations, how can investors know their investments are truly sustainable?

The disparity between growing demand and inadequate supply is a recipe for greenwashing at best, a bubble at worst. It has led to investments being mis-sold as sustainable, when in reality, they’re inconsistent with investors’ values.

How does it actually work?

Using natural language processing, we measure the myriad ways in which 50,000 listed companies—no matter the size, geography or industry—affect the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and thousands of other sustainability concepts. We’re dedicated to meaningful metrics and solid evidence, evaluating companies as an aggregation of their product revenues rather than their promises. Adding another layer of objectivity, conclusions are drawn not from analysts, but from 120 million peer-reviewed academic journals.

The result is a dataset that automatically captures the complex costs and benefits, the positive and negative impacts, that a business has on the world through its products and services.

How is it different from ESG?

ESG data includes everything that goes into creating a product, be it company operations, policies or governance. Util data encompasses information about how the product affects the world around it.

Both are important parts of the sustainable investing puzzle. However, ESG does have two blindspots. First, assessments are highly subjective, with scores varying considerably among providers. Second, they often hinge on disclosures, meaning fossil fuel or tobacco companies can score highly on the basis of their transparency.

The 2020 Boohoo scandal is a good example of the pitfalls of ESG. The question should never have been "does Boohoo report positively on supply-chain management?" but instead, "is a company that sells £5 dresses likely to have a positive social and environmental impact?"

What’s an example of your analytics in action?

Let’s say you’re trying to understand Facebook’s impact on mental health.

Social media happens to be Facebook’s only revenue-generating product. Our technology will identify every instance in which a peer-reviewed publication references social media in relation to mental health. Because we access such a significant volume of sources, we can automatically establish academic consensus on the relationship between the product and sustainability concept.

Of course, it’s more nuanced than “Company X is bad for Sustainability Concept Y.” Many companies have more than one product, and each product is going to have myriad positive and negative impacts on myriad sustainability concepts. We capture all of them.

What if a company has different scores?

No company, or product, is unilaterally ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

The world is a complicated place. Electric cars are less polluting than traditional vehicles, so they make the world cleaner. But they’re still cars, which means the rate of accidents, injuries, and deaths doesn't change. So they're not making the world safer.

Companies produce many things, each of which can have multiple effects on the world. It gets complex, fast. We’ll show you whether a company’s products are making the world better, or worse, or both—and by how much.

Why SDGs?

The 17 SDGs and 174 sub targets have become a common language among ethical investors for a reason. They work as a lens for any market, asset class and geography. They can be set as a benchmark for any company thanks to the universality of their underlying principles. They’re a good guide for evaluating not just a company’s risk and reward profile, but also its third dimension: real-world impact.

Which is actually important for all investors—not just the ethical variety.

Achieving the SDGs by 2030 requires an estimated $5-7 trillion per year. Not only do investors have the unique opportunity to bridge that gap, but the outcome will likely support long-term financial returns. Why? Institutional investors and insurers rely on a healthy global economy, which in turn hinges on a healthy society and planet.

While we use the SDGs as a primary framework, we also have access to thousands of other sustainability themes and can theoretically build modular ontologies.

Why academic journals?

To deliver non-financial data that is both as robust and actionable as financial data, we require a review system to validate our sources. We believe the peer-reviewed framework is the most reliable authority on veracity when analysing data at scale.

Academic literature is a vast, credible and regularly updated dataset. Vast: we have access to 300 million of them. Credible: conclusions are subjected to thorough expert review. Regularly updated: our analytics are updated on a monthly basis.

This source base allows us to quantify the impact of thousands of companies without relying on biased and variable sources, such as company disclosures, or noisy and sentiment-driven datasets, such as social media.

Tell me a bit about Util.

Util is a London-based fintech company founded on the premise that capital allocation should maximise sustainable returns on investment. If investors are to start thinking seriously about non-financial returns, however, they need a metric that demonstrates what exactly success looks like. That’s what we’re creating. Since inception in 2017, we’ve been selected for inclusion in the Investment Association’s inaugural fintech accelerator programme and advised on a number of key industry initiatives, including the Impact Investing Initiative and the Impact Management Project. We’ve received funding from a number of Oxford University-affiliated institutions, including Oxford Sciences Innovation.

What problem are you trying to solve?

Recent years have seen an incredible and exponential uptick in global demand for sustainable funds. Unfortunately, non-financial data has failed to keep up. While there are a plethora of providers, there is little agreement between them. If providers disagree on the criteria, scope, and relative weight of ESG considerations, how can investors know their investments are truly sustainable? The disparity between growing demand and inadequate supply is a recipe for greenwashing at best, a bubble at worst. It has led to investments being mis-sold as sustainable, when in reality, they’re inconsistent with investors’ values.

How does it actually work?

Using natural language processing, we measure the myriad ways in which 50,000 listed companies—no matter the size, geography or industry—affect the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and thousands of other sustainability concepts. We’re dedicated to meaningful metrics and solid evidence, evaluating companies as an aggregation of their product revenues rather than their promises. Adding another layer of objectivity, conclusions are drawn not from analysts, but from 120 million peer-reviewed academic journals. The result is a dataset that automatically captures the complex costs and benefits, the positive and negative impacts, that a business has on the world through its products and services.

How is it different from ESG?

ESG data includes everything that goes into creating a product, be it company operations, policies or governance. Util data encompasses information about how the product affects the world around it. Both are important parts of the sustainable investing puzzle. However, ESG does have two blindspots. First, assessments are highly subjective, with scores varying considerably among providers. Second, they often hinge on disclosures, meaning fossil fuel or tobacco companies can score highly on the basis of their transparency. The 2020 Boohoo scandal is a good example of the pitfalls of ESG. The question should never have been "does Boohoo report positively on supply-chain management?" but instead, "is a company that sells £5 dresses likely to have a positive social and environmental impact?"

What’s an example of your analytics in action?

Let’s say you’re trying to understand Facebook’s impact on mental health. Social media happens to be Facebook’s only revenue-generating product. Our technology will identify every instance in which a peer-reviewed publication references social media in relation to mental health. Because we access such a significant volume of sources, we can automatically establish academic consensus on the relationship between the product and sustainability concept. Of course, it’s more nuanced than “Company X is bad for Sustainability Concept Y.” Many companies have more than one product, and each product is going to have myriad positive and negative impacts on myriad sustainability concepts. We capture all of them.

What if a company has different scores?

No company, or product, is unilaterally ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The world is a complicated place. Electric cars are less polluting, so they make the world cleaner. But they’re still cars, which means that the rate of accidents, injuries, and deaths is the same as other cars, so they are not making the world safer. Companies produce many things, each of which can have multiple effects on the world. It gets complex, fast. We’ll show you whether a company’s products are making the world better, or worse, or both—and by how much.

Why SDGs?

The 17 SDGs and 174 sub targets have become a common language among ethical investors for a reason. They work as a lens for any market, asset class and geography. They can be set as a benchmark for any company thanks to the universality of their underlying principles. They’re a good guide for evaluating not just a company’s risk and reward profile, but also its third dimension: real-world impact. Which is actually important for all investors—not just the ethical variety. Achieving the SDGs by 2030 requires an estimated $5-7 trillion per year. Not only do investors have the unique opportunity to bridge that gap, but the outcome will likely support long-term financial returns. Why? Institutional investors and insurers rely on a healthy global economy, which in turn hinges on a healthy society and planet. While we use the SDGs as a primary framework, we also have access to thousands of other sustainability themes and can theoretically build modular ontologies.

Why academic journals?

To deliver non-financial data that is both as robust and actionable as financial data, we require a review system to validate our sources. We believe the peer-reviewed framework is the most reliable authority on veracity when analysing data at scale. Academic literature is a vast, credible and regularly updated dataset. Vast: we have access to 300 million of them. Credible: conclusions are subjected to thorough expert review. Regularly updated: our analytics are updated on a monthly basis. This source base allows us to quantify the impact of thousands of companies without relying on biased and variable sources, such as company disclosures, or noisy and sentiment-driven datasets, such as social media.