How and Why Private Equity Firms Should Manage Environmental Risks and Opportunities

By Annie Barton and Beth Uhlhorn, Erb ’10; Faculty Advisors: Andy Hoffman and Gautam Kaul

ABSTRACT: Private equity firms have recently become a target for both social and environmental activists, who see financial engineering and cost cutting in companies purchased by these firms as detrimental to the companies and society as a whole. However, the private equity space holds a tremendous amount of potential to improve particularly the environmental performance of a large number of companies while focusing on the smaller number of firms who hold them. In 2007, the environmental non-profit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) began a partnership with the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts (KKR) surrounding the improvement of environmental performance at several of the firm’s portfolio companies. This paper focuses on that partnership, and on how private equity firms can derive value, increase investment, and enhance their public images through the measuring and improvement of their environmental performance in five key areas: greenhouse gas emissions, water use, waste, forest resource use, and toxic chemical use. The paper also walks through the steps private equity firms can take to begin these improvements in two key areas of their work, due diligence and current portfolio enhancement. It offers resources to guide them through the creation of baselines and ways to measure improvement in areas that may be unfamiliar to them.