There’s no doubting Matthieu Maurin’s confidence in his company’s ESG data model. The founder and chief executive of Iceberg Data Labs, a fast-growing ESG data start-up that has netted clients such as Euronext, Aviva and HSBC in just four years of operations says it is solving for a range of challenges that keep chief data officers and asset managers up at night.
For instance, Iceberg “has no problem” when it comes to gathering corporate Scope 3 emissions data for investors, a task that is widely regarded as extremely difficult at best. And the notorious porosity of ESG data sets? Iceberg “has no gaps”.
In fact, one thing that Maurin does find challenging is something that seems to give little concern to his fellow data experts: obtaining straightforward financial data at a reasonable cost.
“There is a bottleneck in that market,” he tells ESG Insight. “It’s a mature market and so access costs should be close to zero, but that is not the case.”
The basis for the French sustainability professional’s confidence is Iceberg’s data model, which has been built with expertise drawn from the technology and financial worlds. The model comprehensively covers all sectors and is the “engine” that powers Iceberg’s a slate of tools. They include services that are being used to guide financial institutions’ investments, climate impact and risk-management decisions as well as biodiversity, net-zero and Paris alignment policies. It’s also calculating corporate carbon footprints.
The model is helping asset managers develop thematic funds, is providing the data for thematic indexes and has helped Iceberg build portfolio exclusion filters. Most recently, the model has been complemented with GenAI technology to help investors mine more insights from the company’s datasets on 4,000 companies.
That’s a lot for a firm that’s been in existence only since 2019 when Maurin and his chief technology officer Pierre-Olivier Haye launched a portfolio biodiversity impact tool and put Iceberg on the data map. Maurin says his company is driven by a belief that only science-based data and processes will properly serve sustainability investors and the companies in which they invest.
“We don’t live in a a black and white world,” he says. “You need to go in depth in appraising supply chain processes, the end-of-life impact of products and so on; it has to be science based.”
Maurin created Iceberg after a career spent in several French financial form, including a decade at French bank BNP Paribas, where he held roles including project manager of corporate and institutional banking ESG screening and was a director within the sustainable finance team on green loan structuring and origination.
Through his career, Maurin said he witnessed the frustration of sustainability teams who lacked tools to serve the increasingly complex demands of their ESG customers. Despite the professionalism of his colleagues, they found it difficult to do their jobs because they had to rely on financial data and low-tech tools, Maurin says.
“It was not scalable – using Excel on a project-by-project basis is not fit for the needs of industrialising data flows,” he says.
Iceberg set about its data gathering with a policy of using only publicly available data, reckoning that if anything were material to a company it would be available in reports. The company also believes that the alternative – company-reported data – is too sparsely provided to satisfy the needs of sustainability investors. That data is fed into the model.
Where data is lacking, the model makes “science-based” calculations to fill the gaps. As more reported data comes into Iceberg’s systems, the derived data is replaced. Often, says Maurin, the reported calculations are more accurate than the reported data.
“Our specialist data scientists and environmental analysts look at the reports to identify errors,” he explains. “We have seen listed companies reporting their total greenhouse gas emissions by subtracting Scope 2 from Scope 1, which is wrong, but you wouldn’t know unless you’re an expert.”
Similarly, Iceberg is confident in its Scope 3 estimates because, says Maurin, public reports are “scarce and inconsistent”. Its estimates illustrate when reported Scope 3 data is immaterial, he added.
“Actually, it can be misleading, even.”
As Iceberg seeks to provide the tools that institutions lacked when he was working on the other side of the ESG table, Maurin is keen to see similar efforts in the regulatory approach to sustainability. He’s particularly animated by the potential for certification of commodity industries as a tool to combat biodiversity loss and the impacts that has on the world and businesses.
He points to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) limited certification initiative that seeks to promote the better production of the foodstuff. While it has been adopted by only to a handful of countries, Maurin believes that a broader version of the scheme could be applied to the extraction and other natural resource industries.
“With that data point you can distinguish companies that are sustainable and drive capital flows and consumer choices towards them,” he says, adding that the EU has taken a similar approach to reducing deforestation. “But it needs to be more widely applied to more commodities and countries.”
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