ESG refers to the performance of an enterprise in terms of Environment, Social and Governance. It is an investment philosophy that focuses on the environmental, social and governance performance of an enterprise and a non-financial measure or standard for measuring the performance of an enterprise. With the continuous advancement of the global carbon neutrality process and China’s transition to a high-quality and sustainable economic development model, ESG has become an important factor in corporate value judgment and development planning. Recently, a domestic power battery company obtained upgraded ESG ratings from a number of domestic and foreign rating agencies, and the ESG ratings from Refinitiv and Sino-Securities on this company are higher than most of its peers. So how important is ESG? And what is the underlying logic of the ESG efforts of this company?
Gotion High-tech ESG Rating Upgraded by Several Agencies
In June 2023, CCTV released its first achievement report, the Annual ESG Action Report, together with several ministries, commissions and organizations. The Report stated that under the leadership of national strategies, Chinese companies have begun a new phase of actively responding to ESG concepts and comprehensively improving their ESG performance. The overall performance of large Chinese companies in terms of ESG development and the percentage of outstanding companies is already comparable to that of large global companies, with leading companies in various industries spearheading sustainable development.
As the new energy industry is an important part of “carbon neutrality”, companies in such industry pay special attention to ESG performance and take active measures in this regard. Take Gotion High-tech, a power battery company in China, for example, the Company has achieved remarkable results in recent years with continuous improvement and advancement in ESG. According to statistics, the Company’s 2022 annual ESG report was highly recognized by domestic and overseas rating agencies, including FTSE Russell, Morningstar, Refinitiv and Wind. For international ESG ratings, Gotion High-tech’s ratings in FTSE Russell, Morningstar, and Refinitiv are in an industry leading position, and with the rating of 71.0 (B+) by Refinitiv, Gotion High-tech ranked first among its peers in China. For domestic ESG ratings, Gotion High-tech got Grade A rating from Wind and China Chengxin and Grade BBB rating from Sino-Securities, also ranked among the top players in China.
Why ESG is Gotion High-tech’s competitiveness?
Since the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) proposed ESG in 2004, green development has gradually become a worldwide consensus and unanimous action. The ESG system indicates that enterprises not only create profits for shareholders, but also create value for society. Therefore, in the short term, enterprises will incur a certain cost to invest in ESG. However, in the long run, the reputation that ESG brings to a company can help it gain a greater competitive advantage in the market.
In recent years, with the introduction of the goal of “carbon neutrality”, major countries around the world have adopted various measures to reduce carbon emissions and strive to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, so as to actively respond to the challenge of global climate change. As a result, major countries around the world are actively seeking transition to a clean, low-carbon and highly efficient energy system by stepping up their efforts in the development of renewable energy.
Particularly for companies with global operations, there will be significant opportunities for incremental global markets centered on key ESG issues such as carbon neutrality.
In particular, the European Union was the first to set long-term emission reduction targets, and 11 member states have proposed carbon neutrality target years. A number of member countries, including Germany, France and Sweden, have specified the political goal of achieving carbon neutrality in the form of legislation and proposed feasible ways to achieve carbon neutrality. The EU has introduced the European Green Deal in 2019, the Green Bond Revolution in 2020 and new clean energy proposals in 2023. At the end of April, the EU CBAM (Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism), known as the EU’s “carbon tariff”, was voted on by the EU Council. Only companies that truly practice green and low-carbon development models and can effectively balance operating profits and ESG expenditures are eligible to enter the European market. This also means that only companies that have localized their business in Europe at an early stage will be in a better position to adapt to the relevant EU policies and take this opportunity to gain more share in the EU domestic market.
Take Gotion High-tech as an example, in the Company’s global manufacturing layout, in addition to Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Americas, it has also directly established production bases in Europe. In July 2021, Gotion High-tech established its first new energy production and operation base in Europe in Gottingen, Germany, to carry out localized production in Europe. In July 2021, Gotion High-tech established its first new energy production and operation base in Europe in Gottingen, Germany, to carry out localized production in Europe. It is reported that the Gottingen base covers an area of approximately 174,000 square meters and develops new energy battery products in line with the development of the European new energy market and technology guidelines. The plant will reach full capacity in 2025, and is expected to achieve the production capacity target of 20GWh per year. As Gotion High-tech gradually establishes a firm foothold in Europe, it is foreseeable that the company’s influence and brand awareness in the global market will also grow in the future.
In addition, Gotion High-tech has established a joint venture with NUOVO PLUS, a subsidiary of Thailand’s PTT Group, reached a supply agreement with Borrego, a US energy storage company, and started the first phase of a 5GWh battery plant in Ha Tinh, Vietnam, with a plan to reach a production capacity of 300GWh in 2025. At a time when countries around the world are placing increasing emphasis on green industries, Gotion High-tech continues to grow its global influence with its excellent ESG governance.
For ESG disclosure, in October 2022, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), the EU’s market regulator, added ESG disclosure to its key priorities, indicating that the EU regulator pays more attention to the standardization and necessity of corporate ESG disclosure. In November 2022, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive was adopted by the Council of the European Union, establishing more mandatory and stringent requirements on corporate ESG disclosure.
This means that international mainstream automakers will inevitably respond to ESG management requirements and propose higher standards to the upstream of the industry chain. It also means that under the requirement of enhancing corporate transparency, companies are bound to improve their governance capacity in a comprehensive manner under the supervision of investors, the public and the government.
Given that Gotion High-tech is backed by Volkswagen China as its largest shareholder and has already become the global supplier of Volkswagen Group, it will be relatively easier for its ESG performance to comply with the standards of international mainstream automakers. Moreover, the company has successfully issued GDRs in Switzerland in 2022, and is more motivated to further promote the implementation of ESG standards for international investors.
In fact, in addition to Europe, every major country in the world is developing its own carbon neutrality targets and ESG policies. According to “ESG in Your Business: The Edge You Need to Land Large Contracts,” a study released in March 2023 by Business Development Bank of Canada, it is predicted that in 2024, 92% of international companies will require ESG-related disclosures from their suppliers worldwide. Green and low-carbon development will surely become the most essential competitiveness of companies competing in the global market in the future.
According to the IIA report, there are now more than 50,000 ESG indices worldwide, and the number of ESG indices worldwide in 2022 grew by 55.1% year-on-year. For companies, it is already the right time to go overseas centering on ESG. Over the past three years, Gotion High-tech’s overseas revenue has maintained rapid growth, with overseas revenue amounting to RMB2.98 billion in 2022, representing an increase of 464.76% from the previous year, and its percentage as total revenue grew from 2.36% in 2020 to 12.93% in 2022. With the further improvement of ESG policies, the ESG strength of Gotion High-tech may further improve its business performance.
How Gotion High-tech enhances its value through ESG?
As disclosed by Gotion High-tech, in 2022, the company’s revenue amounted to RMB23.052 billion, up 122.59% year-on-year, and operating profit amounted to RMB199 million, up 408.87% year-on-year. In particular, the overseas revenue amounted to RMB2.98 billion, a year-on-year growth of 464.76%, achieving simultaneous development of overseas passenger cars, overseas commercial vehicles, and overseas energy storage. In addition, Gotion High-tech’s Q1 2023 report showed that the company reported revenue of RMB7.177 billion for the first quarter, an increase of 83.26% year-on-year.
While continuing to improve its operating fundamentals, the company is also enhancing its ESG-related performance, because in the long run, ESG development is a necessary long-term investment for companies. From countless cases in the past, we can find that ESG can create real value for companies.
Depending on value creation process, they can be categorized as direct and indirect impact. Some create value directly by making direct changes to key items on a company’s income statement, while others create value indirectly by altering certain processes or elements of a company’s operations, thereby affecting financial data in a non-direct manner.
In 2022, Gotion High-tech invested RMB2.416 billion in R&D and technological innovation, with 6,267 R&D technical staff, accounting for 32.03% of the total. Continuous investment in R&D and talent recruitment have laid a solid foundation for the company’s technological competitiveness and the use of technology to promote energy saving and emission reduction. As of 2022, the company has applied for a total of 6,344 patents and was granted a total of 4,274 patents, maintaining its industry-leading position. In 2022, nine subsidiaries under Gotion High-tech implemented 114 energy-saving and emission reduction projects, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 59,637.4 tons of CO2 equivalent. The Company generated 39.19 million kWh of electricity from photovoltaic power plants, equivalent to a reduction of 27,572.8 tons of CO2 equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions. The company’s excellent performance has also been widely recognized by the society, and the company was ranked 39th in the 2022 Top 100 Chinese Private Enterprises for Sustainable Development.
In terms of promoting revenue growth, according to the recently released 2023 Global Consumer Trends by Mintel, consumers are gradually shifting their consumption mindset, with more and more consumers looking to green and low-carbon lifestyle as part of meeting their spiritual needs, which has prompted many to include it as one of their key considerations when choosing a brand.
As for companies with mainly 2B business, companies with better ESG performance can have a strong ESG business model, which enables them to meet the higher requirements of customers for suppliers’ ESG performance, which in turn contributes to the direct increase of sales and revenue. Therefore, good ESG performance will bring more potential cooperation opportunities.
In addition, from the perspective of the company itself, a good ESG system can enhance the company’s comprehensive governance capability, strengthen operational efficiency, and help the company achieve cost reduction and efficiency enhancement. By applying ESG concepts to all aspects of business operations, the overall efficiency of operations will be improved through the reduction of energy consumption, the use of cost-effective alternative energy sources, and the reduction of resource wastage. For example, Gotion High-tech has implemented the “high-temperature rotor transformation project” in its production, which realizes an actual energy-saving rate of about 30%, and the cathode coating residual heat recovery project, which recycles and utilizes the hot air discharged through a heat exchanger to supply fresh air and residual heat and recovers about 40% of the discharged air, with an annual power saving of 1.4 million kWh, equivalent to an annual income of RMB1.05 million calculated at RMB0.75/kWh.
For Gotion High-tech, refined management and standardized operation have been considered essential for the company. For example, Nanjing Gotion, a subsidiary of the company, utilized the collected rainwater to create a landscape lake in the living area, achieving sound water management and reuse. The Company advocates green packaging for its products, ensuring that packaging materials brought to market in 2022 are reusable or 100% recyclable, and that the utilization rate of packaging materials per unit of product has increased by more than 10% compared to 2021. The company also actively enhanced green office performance, promoted energy-saving transformation of power consumption, implemented strong power zoning control, and reduced per capita power consumption from 24,374kWh to 24,143kWh, and per capita water consumption from 271 cubic meters to 236 cubic meters.
Since Volkswagen became the largest shareholder of Gotion in 2020, Volkswagen has not only provided valuable capital and channel resources, but also brought advanced management and operation experience to Gotion High-tech. Volkswagen’s support in R&D and quality control helps the company produce safer and more reliable products, and the improvement of price-performance ratio and Volkswagen’s brand strength help the company attract more high-quality core customers, and the introduction of high-quality customers further improves the price-performance ratio of the company’s products through the economy of scale effect and joint research and development, forming a virtuous cycle of positive development of “cost-customer-performance”. Companies that respect their employees and take care of their well-being through people-friendly employee management typically achieve higher employee productivity, which is critical to improving efficiency and achieving revenue growth. For example, in 2022, Guoxuan recruited 15,394 new employees. By upholding the talent-driven strategy, the company provides employees with competitive salary through the 3+1 salary and incentive system of “salary + annual incentives, special incentives and equity incentives”. In addition to the statutory benefits, the company also provides all employees with free work meals, shuttle buses and accommodation far below the market price, as well as care and growth benefits such as birthday benefits, employment anniversary benefits, Gition Star and remuneration for internal trainers. These detailed and thoughtful measures are conducive to improving employee productivity.
Gotion High-tech adheres to the service philosophy centered around “delivery as the core”. With a focus on delivery, the company ensures the orderly production of existing production lines to achieve the annual goals. The company ensures the implementation of monthly plans, pays close attention to daily performance in safety and environmental protection; conducts organizational performance assessment with focus on established targets to ensure orderly and timely delivery; promotes standardization and ensures the on-time delivery of products with required quality and quantity through continuous improvement of manufacturing equipments, optimization of logistic equipments, and continuous improvement of production techniques.
Last but not least, standardized ESG practices can help companies effectively identify and mitigate compliance and regulatory risks. By studying and strictly adhering to applicable laws and regulations and adopting high standards of compliance, companies can reduce fines, production interruptions, shutdowns, and other regulatory and enforcement measures for violating local laws and regulations or industry norms, avoiding loss of revenues and additional costs and expenses for response.
Moreover, the ESG system is more adapted to the current national policy guidance for the development of green economy and industry. For example, at the beginning of 2022, seven departments, including the NDRC, issued the Implementation Plan for Promoting Green Consumption, which put forward a number of goals and requirements, including the development of green transportation consumption as well as the promotion of green electricity consumption in the whole society. Therefore, for companies that persist in pursuing ESG, the combined internal and external effects of digitalization and technological innovation will be of great value for the green industry, which will undoubtedly broaden the path of future development for relevant companies.
In view of the above, and as the new energy battery industry is at the forefront in achieving the global goal of “carbon neutrality”, Gotion High-tech is naturally compatible with the responsible green development concept advocated by ESG.
In today’s society, where sustainable development is a major concern, many investors and consumers prefer to support companies that exhibit strong ESG performance. As a result, companies with higher ESG scores may be more attractive to investors and consumers, ultimately enhancing the value of these companies.
As a listed company, Gotion High-tech’s strong ESG performance can enhance trust among stakeholders and improve its creditworthiness. This, in turn, can help the company broaden its financing channels and reduce financing costs, ultimately providing greater financial support to achieve its carbon neutrality goals.
For society as a whole, promoting ESG is not only a matter of corporate responsibility towards the environment and society, but also a part of macro strategic development for companies. By incorporating ESG development concepts into business planning and building an ESG organizational management system, companies can achieve high-quality development while meeting the expectations and requirements of stakeholders. This helps to jointly build and promote the concept of sustainable development. Clear implementation paths and more professional and standardized management processes will facilitate in-depth implementation of ESG actions and climate change-related management practices, thereby achieving the long-term goal of carbon neutrality.
As such, Gotion High-tech’s strong ESG performance has once again made it a leader in the industry and positioned it at the forefront of the times.