Early Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) Investing
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Twenty years ago, when someone asked for my guidance on choosing an environmentally friendly investment strategy, there were very few choices. One or two companies offered “green” mutual funds that invested in solar and water. These funds did attract new money, yet rarely gave the diversification that traditional investment funds provided.
The expense ratios and costs were above a traditional stock fund, and performance lagged. As time went on, institutional money managers attempted to provide strategies for clients that screened out tobacco or oil stocks, and offered “to do their best” at avoiding other companies that might have a negative effect on the global climate. Yet if you read the entire prospectus on the fund, you’d find that only a small percentage of the overall investments had to meet that criteria. Outside of that small percentage, the fund manager could actually buy whatever he or she wanted.
Present Day ESG Investing Options
Nearly two decades later, environmentally friendly funds are more commonly known as socially responsible funds or sustainable funds. The keywords – environmental, social, and governance (ESG) – have become part of the investment lingo. Investors have become increasingly curious about sustainable investing, and how they can select ESG funds that align with their social values.
As more interest and money have poured into this field, new strategies to find ESG funds that match an investor’s specific goal or motivation have become available.
- Invest in the Positive. Does the investor want their investments to make a difference and seek positive impact? There are funds that assess impact and target sustainability.
- Avoid the Negative. Is the investor looking for a fund that avoids negative impact and has a “do no harm” focus? There are funds that avoid holding certain companies.
- Control the Risk. Is the investor concerned about managing environmental-, social-, and governance-related risks in investments and strategies? There are ways to find the appropriate sustainable fund based on their risk tolerance.
- Enhance the Returns. Maybe the investor believes in the long-term financial upside of companies that are actively working to improve their ESG performance and that are committed to sustainable and responsible business practices. Many ESG funds do not compromise market returns and this metric is easily measured.
Regardless of the goal, there are strategies now that provide a much improved and diversified approach for investors seeking opportunities in sustainable investing.
ESG Mutual Funds and ETFs
There are now over 800 mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs) classified as socially responsible investments available for U.S. investors, representing nearly $291 billion in assets under management as of December 2022. Consumers are seeking investment strategies specific to their core values, beliefs, and lifestyle. Many companies are adjusting their corporate culture to be greener and more responsible.
Investors can now search for these funds online and the investment strategies being offered are broader and more diversified than before. If you would rather hire someone to do the homework and invest for you, our firm provides an ESG portfolio represented by many of these ETFs.
Environmental investing now includes many different aspects to conserve and protect our surroundings. Besides solar and water, air quality and emissions are examined when picking companies to invest in. The amount of energy use, natural resources, and land use are examined and compared to make decisions about their qualifications for being green. Waste management and hazardous materials usage are reviewed before they are added to an environmentally friendly portfolio.
Socially responsible investing has brought to the forefront what kind of relationships a company has with its employees and community. These objectives are reviewed to meet the specific criteria around production quality, safety, and labor standards.
Is the company having a positive impact on its local community? Other factors that are reviewed include health care and educational opportunities that are being offered. All of these can impact a fund’s decision process on what to include in their investment portfolio.
Investment managers now have more information to make decisions on corporate governance policies that could potentially lead to improved results. These include standards for company leadership and shareholder rights.
Portfolio managers can compare accounting and tax transparency of a company and can review if they are following ethical business practices through various reports. More companies are voluntarily providing information and adapting their risk controls to improve these standards and be a part of the responsible accounting community.
Companies that are paying more attention to these core values are performing well and providing investors with returns they can believe in. It is always good to pay attention to an ETF or mutual funds investment strategy and approach, read the prospectus, making sure it fits your personal goals. Besides being socially responsible, look for diversification and low expense ratios when picking investments.
Going green has become easier as more companies embrace these principles.
As financial mentors, we are always looking out for the best interests of our clients and helping them plan an amazing life in retirement. Let’s start planning an investment strategy that meets your core values, needs, wants and wishes in life. Schedule an appointment to discuss ESG or other investment questions.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June of 2020.