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The unsexy part of ESG investing

September 3, 2021, 3:10 PM UTC

“Esg” sounds more like a noise investors would have made two years ago when hearing the term ESG: The acronym for environmental, social, and governance factors used to determine whether a company is operating ethically.

Now though, interest in the space is exploding in both public and private markets. Funds focused on sustainability are popping up left and right, while the first crop of startups focused on being green are going public at $1 billion plus valuations, proving there’s consumer appetite for their messaging.

Yes, ESG is sexy.

But there is an increasingly important, unsexy part to all of this: Can companies and funds live up to their ESG claims? And what is considered ESG friendly anyways?

On Friday, Bloomberg reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission has been scrutinizing money managers that call their funds ESG-focused. In particular, the SEC is asking for explanations into the standards used to label a fund as such. 

Beyond public-market fund managers, the skepticism is also trickling into companies themselves. Short seller Spruce Point Capital Management accused Oatly, the Blackstone-backed oat milk maker, of greenwashing—or making misleading statements about its environmental friendliness—in July. Wool shoe company AllBirds is also facing a lawsuit over its eco-friendly claims. Stockholm-based Voi claimed its e-scooters had saved 1.6 million tonnes of carbon emissions from users opting away from more pollutive modes of transportation, but had to backtrack when Sweden’s national radio broadcaster Sveriges Radio found it was in fact 1,600 tonnes.

Unfortunately, regulators have a tendency to go after big targets, meaning startups are more likely to skate by on their claims of green-ness.

Though the bottom line still remains true: Sustainability is the new hot thing on the block, both as a factor to stitch into operations and as a marketing term. Don’t be surprised to see more accusations of greenwashing, and more attempts to standardize what exactly it means to be ESG-friendly.

A TELEMEDICINE CLINIC NAVIGATES TEXAS’ ABORTION LAW: On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block Texas law banning most abortions—even in cases of incest and rape—after six weeks of pregnancy. That’s before when most women know they are pregnant.

I spoke to the founder of a telemedicine abortion clinic, Hey Jane founder Kiki Freedman, on Thursday to understand how the company is responding to the news. Hey Jane raised $2.2 million recently from venture investors, and launched as abortion-focused telemedicine clinics had surged during the pandemic. Some 19 states currently limit telemedicine abortion, with Texas already among the group.

Freedman says in response to the new law, Hey Jane is “moving as quickly as possible” to launch in Texas’ neighboring states, Colorado and New Mexico, so Texan patients can go there to get care. That means to legally access Hey Jane, those in Texas would have to physically cross state lines before opening up Hey Jane’s platform and ordering its pills. Hey Jane had previously planned to open in those states, but developments in Texas moved it up the list.

Historically, even with abortion restrictions, women have still found a way to get the procedure done, says Freedman. This is why she is anticipating women heading to neighboring states—even if the state has made it very, very difficult especially for those in low-income situations. That data also answers the question as to what she believes will happen to abortion clinics at large if the Supreme Court’s decision opens the door overturning Roe v. Wade. Should that 1973 decision be gutted, abortion would not be banned nationwide: Instead, the decision to legalize or ban abortion would fall on the states. Meaning more states would ban abortion, but more women would also likely be traveling out of state for the procedure.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: 
@shenlucinda
Email: 
lucinda.shen@fortune.com

Housekeeping: The sincerest apologies for delays you may have experienced this week in receiving the newsletter. We’ve been having technical difficulties. Separately, Term Sheet will be off on Monday for Labor Day.

Jessica Mathews compiled the IPO and SPAC sections of this newsletter.

VENTURE DEALS

- Disc Medicine, a Cambridge, Mass.-based clinical-stage biotech focused on hematologic diseases, raised $90 million in Series B funding. OrbiMed led the round and was joined by investors including Arix Bioscience, Janus Henderson Investors, 5AM Ventures, Rock Springs Capital, Nantahala Capital Management, Willett Advisors, and Alexandria Venture Investments. 

- Jeeves, a New York City-based expense management platform for startups, raised $57 million in Series B funding at a $500 million valuation. CRV led the round.

- Panorama Education, a Boston-based K-12 education software platform, raised $60 million in Series C funding. General Atlantic led the round and was joined by investors including Owl Ventures, Emerson Collective, Uncork Capital, CZI, and Tao Capital Partners.

- Point Card, a San Francisco-based maker of a debit card, raised $46.5 million in Series B funding. Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Breyer Capital, YC Continuity, and Human Capital. 

- Botify, a New York City-based search traffic improvement company, raised $55 million in Series C funding. InfraVia Growth led the round and was joined by investors including Bpifrance, Eurazeo, and Ventech. 

- Solv, a San Francisco-based healthcare provider marketplace, raised $45 million in Series C funding. Acrew Capital and Corner Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital.

- Stravito, a Swedish market research and insights company, raised €12.4 million ($14.6 million) in Series A funding. Endeit Capital led the round and was joined by investors including HenQ, Inventure, and Creades. 

- AON3D, a 3D-printing-startup, raised $11.5 million in Series A funding. SineWave Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including  AlleyCorp, Y Combinator Continuity, BDC, EDC, Panache Ventures, MANA Ventures, Josh Richards & Griffin Johnson, and SV angels.

- Marpipe, a New York City-based company with software for brands and marketing agencies, raised $8 million in Series A funding. Stage 2 Capital led the round and was joined by investors including ValueStream Ventures, Commerce Ventures, Ripple Ventures, and Samsung.

- Explosion, a maker of A.I. tools, raised $6 million Series A today on a $120 million valuation. The round was led by SignalFire.

- Arive, a German-based company that delivers high-end consumer brands, raised €6 million in seed funding. 468 Capital, La Famiglia VC, and Balderton Capital invested.

- theCut, a Washington D.C.-based barbershop booking platform, raised $4.5 million in seed funding. Nextgen Venture Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Elevate Ventures, Singh Capital, and Leadout Capital.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- WindStar Medical, a portfolio company of Oakley Capital, acquired L.A.B. Cosmetics, a clean beauty products company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Tilley Company, a portfolio company of SK Capital Partner, acquired Ingredients Solutions, a Waldo, Me.-based company in the hydrocolloid market. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- The Sterling Group acquired L&S Mechanical, a Richardson, Texas-based provider of plumbing, HVAC and electrical installation services. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Wheel Pros, backed by Clearlake Capital Group, merged with Hoonigan, a maker of jackets and accessories for automotive lovers. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Wind Point Partners acquired The Vertex Companies, a Weymouth, Mass.-based engineering and consulting firm. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

EXIT

- Thor Industries acquired Airxcel, a Wichita, Ka.-based maker of RV products, for $750 million from L Catterton.

- Quarterhill (TSX: QTRH) acquired Electronic Transaction Consultant, a Richardson, Texas-based tolling system maker, from Align Capital Partners for $120 million.

- Brightstar Capital Partners agreed to acquire a majority stake in XLerate Group, a Nora, Ind.-based car auction company. Huron Capital will retain a minority equity stake.

IPO

- Reddit, a San Francisco-based social media platform, is preparing for an IPO, per Reuters. An IPO could value the company at $15 billion. Fidelity Investments, Andreessen Horowitz, Tencent Holdings, and Sequoia Capital back the firm.

- Cyngn, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based autonomous vehicle technology company, filed for an initial public offering. The company reported a net loss of $8.3 million in 2020 and did not post any revenue. Benchmark, Andreessen Horowitz, and Redpoint Ventures back the firm.

- Kioxia Holdings, the holding company for Japanese computer memory manufacturer Kioxia Corporation, is making plans for a public offering in the country for November, according to Reuters.

- Antin Infrastructure Partners, a Paris-based private equity company, is planning to go public in the country and raise around $416 million, per Bloomberg

SPAC

- Iconiq Motors, a Chinese electric car, is weighing a SPAC merger, per Bloomberg. A deal could value the company at $4 billion. Amer International Group backs the firm.

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