You’ve likely heard of “voting with your dollars,” or using your money to make purchases at businesses you believe in. But choosing your local bookstore over Amazon isn’t the only way you can make an impact. There are strategies, such as ESG investing, to put your investment dollars to work in a similar way.
What is ESG investing?
Environmental, social and governance, or ESG investing, is a form of sustainable investing that considers an investment’s financial returns and its overall impact. An investment’s ESG score measures the sustainability of an investment in three specific categories: environmental, social and corporate governance.
Why should I care about ESG investing?
Aside from the benefits of creating a more ethical portfolio, there is evidence that ESG investments deliver similar returns as traditional investments — and potentially carry less risk.
ESG investing and high returns
A 2019 white paper produced by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing compared the performance of sustainable funds with traditional funds and found that from 2004 to 2018, the total returns of sustainable mutual and exchange-traded funds were similar to those of traditional funds. Other studies have found that ESG investments can outperform conventional ones.
JUST Capital ranks companies based on factors such as whether they pay fair wages or take steps to protect the environment. It created the JUST U.S. Large Cap Diversified Index (JULCD), which includes the top 50% of companies in the Russell 1000 (a large-cap stock index) based on those rankings. Since its inception, the index has returned 15.94% on an annualized basis compared with the Russell 1000’s 14.76% return.
ESG investing and lower risk
The same Morgan Stanley study found that sustainable funds consistently showed a lower downside risk than traditional funds, regardless of asset class. The study found that during turbulent markets, such as in 2008, 2009, 2015 and 2018, traditional funds had significantly larger downside deviation than sustainable funds, meaning traditional funds had a higher potential for loss.
ESG funds have even managed to post strong performance during 2020. Of 26 sustainable index funds analyzed by investment research company Morningstar in April, 24 outperformed comparable traditional funds in the first quarter of 2020 (and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic).