Sustainable Equities Boutique

Impactology "alla Milanese"

Sustainable Investing

Today is the United Nations’ World Cities Day, an occasion to highlight sustainable ways of improving urban life across the globe. We stay closer to home, concentrating on a single European metropolis, Milan, whose attractions would shine brighter if it realized its “green” potential in full. As the UN’s promotion of urban innovation relates to several investment ideas we follow within our clean technology portfolio, we use Lombardy’s capital to showcase our seven new impact indicators, hoping they will be as palatable as a steaming plate of Risotto alla Milanese (for indicator details, read our Impact Report 2019).

Getting there is half the fun

Whether you are a buongustaio in search of culinary delights or an art lover hoping to catch an undisturbed glimpse of Leonardo’s Last Supper, Milan is always worth a trip. But even before starting the engine of your Fiat or Ferrari, you may abandon such plans at the thought of epic traffic jams. Fortunately, the situation has improved, at least for overland travellers from across the Alps. They can now whizz down to Milan through a new record-breaking 57-kilometer railway tunnel deep under Switzerland’s Gotthard mountain range without the danger of succumbing to road rage. This cuts travel time from Zurich by around 60 minutes to 3 hours 40 minutes, which makes it an even more attractive alternative to driving or flying. Switzerland also boasts a railway corridor between its northern border with Germany and its southern border with Italy, which has reduced heavy truck traffic substantially. Several companies we own in the Vontobel Fund - Clean Technology portfolio such as the US-based rail-freight services company CSX contribute to clean transportation, an investment theme covered by the two grey-coloured indicators in the infographic.

Green buildings rise above the smog

Milan is one of the most polluted cities in Italy,1 possibly also in Europe. However, it has made small steps in the right direction. The Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Woods, a towering double high-rise north of the city center overgrown with shrubs, has become an attraction for residents and visitors alike. Looking out from the landmark’s top floor, you may want to construct a portfolio around companies that improve building efficiency and help save energy. France’s Saint-Gobain, a producer of high-tech glass, and Ireland’s Kingspan Group, a manufacturer of insulation materials, might fall in your gaze (the efficient buildings theme is indirectly covered by our two yellow energy-related indicators in the infographic).

Flush it down the Po

Lombardy’s sprawling metropolis lies in a natural basin drained by the river Po, which spills into the Adriatic Sea. Sadly, the city’s plumbing hasn’t kept up with its growing size. What starts upstream in thousands of coffee bars eventually flows downstream to the Po. The lack of adequate wastewater treatment already prompted legal action by the European Union.2 To be fair, this is a problem in other places in Europe as well, not to mention many less developed regions of the world. We believe businesses active in wastewater treatment such as the utility companies Suez from France, American Water Works from the US and Guangdong Investment from China can lead us to a fragrant future (the water theme is covered by our two blue indicators, the solid waste theme by the dark grey indicator in the infographic).

The seven new indicators come on top of two existing ones we have used for years, the “potentially avoided emissions” (PAE) and the carbon footprint methods (see the bottom red and green tiles in the infographic). The environmental benefits of a clean technology investment tied to those two indicators have been covered on several occasions already.

Increased transparency

Why have we started publishing trucks-off-the-Gotthard-route figures and other quirky data? First, we wanted to increase transparency. Second, like any good asset manager dealing with thematic or impact investing, we constantly ask ourselves whether our offering lives up to expectations – and investors do expect to learn how we generate positive environmental impact in areas other than carbon footprint and avoided emissions.

Generally, we build our case around certain investment ideas. Six of them are at the core of the Vontobel Fund - Clean Technology: Life-cycle management, resource-efficient industry, building technology, clean energy, low-emission transportation, and clean water. These investment ideas are aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).3 The resulting portfolio should tick the “impact investment box,” i.e. lead to a measurable improvement in environmental, social and governance terms while delivering returns to investors.

Expect clean tech’s impact to hit you

So now after concluding our virtual walking tour of Milan, you can finally do as you please – perhaps hit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II or tuck into a well-deserved meal at your favorite place near the Duomo. Meanwhile, return-hungry investors can open a clean technology menu and wait for the beneficial impact to hit.


Experience the environmental benefits of a train ride from Zurich to Milan through the new high-speed railway Gotthard tunnel ...


... and use our clean-technology calculator to see the effect of your investment on nine impact indicators.


Generation of renewable energy:

0 kWh

Provide clean energy to

0 people

for one year

Shipment of renewable energy devices:

0 kW


0 t

of annual coal consumption

Eco-friendly passenger transport:

0 pass. km



of short distance flights per year

Provision of drinking water:

0 m3

Supplying water to

0 people

for one year

Water recycled, treated or saved:

0 m3

Treating waste water of

0 people

for one year

Rail cargo transport:

0 t km


0 trucks

off the Gotthard route per year

Waste treated or recycled:

0 t

Treating waste of

0 people

per year

Carbon footprint:

0 t CO2*

Causing emissions equiv. to

0 cars

on the road

Avoided carbon emissions:

0 t CO2**

Avoiding emissions equiv. to


off the road


* Emissions caused under carbon footprint method; ** Emissions saved under PAE method (scope 1&2)

Source: Vontobel Asset Management. Portfolio as of June 30, 2019. Renewable energy generated: Eurostat: Electricity consumption per capita in the households sector in the EU-28 in 2017 was 1'579 kWh per capita. Source:; Renewable energy devices shipped: Assumptions: Wind and solar power - average capacity; 29%. 1 kW of renewable capacity replaces 3.08 t of Coal in a power plant Drinking water provided: European environment agency: On average, 144 litres of water per person per day is supplied to households in Europe. (2017: per year: 144*365 = 52'560 l or 52.56 m3).; Water recycled/treated/ saved: see drinking water; Waste treated/processed/recycled: Eurostat waste statistics 2017: EU average of 487 kg waste per capita and year. Source:; Train passenger transport: Flight travel definition: short distance flight up to 1500 km; We took a distance of 500 km; Rail cargo: Cargo: Netload of a 40 t truck is 27 t: we assumed a road distance from Erstfeld to Biasca (78 km) which now can be replaced by rail cargo; Carbon footprint: Cars: average annual distance in Germany 2018: 13727 km; Average CO2 emission of EU cars in 2018: 120.4 g/km -> 1.6527 t CO2/year. Source:; Kraftfahrtbundesamt; Avoided emissions: see carbon footprint


Learn more about Vontobel Fund – Clean Technology



1 “These are the 55 most polluted towns in Italy”,, January 22, 2019

2 “European Commission takes Italy to Court over failure to properly treat urban waste water”,, March 7, 2019

3 In 2015, the United Nations adopted 17 goals to improve the lives of people around the globe. Some of these objectives are environment-related (e.g. climate action, sustainable cities and communities), others cover areas such as development and preservation (e.g. quality education, gender equality, life on land).


Vontobel Fund - Clean Technology


  • Broad diversification across numerous securities
  • Possible extra returns through single security analysis and active management
  • Gains on invested capital possible
  • Use of derivatives for hedging purposes may increase subfund's performance and enhance returns
  • Price increases of investments based on market, sector and company developments are possible
  • Investments in foreign currencies might generate currency gains


  • Limited participation in the potential of single securities
  • Success of single security analysis and active management cannot be guaranteed
  • It cannot be guaranteed that the investor will recover the capital invested
  • Derivatives entail risks relating to liquidity, leverage and credit fluctuations, illiquidity and volatility.
  • Price fluctuations of investments due to market, industry and issuer linked changes are possible.
  • Investments in foreign currencies are subject to currency fluctuations


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