Even as retail and institutional investors devote more and more portfolio space to funds that specialize in improving environmental, social, or governance (ESG) criteria, misconceptions about impact investing persist, giving some would-be investors second thoughts and holding back the movement’s full potential.
Here’s a look at four of the most common ESG investing myths and why some think they’re inaccurate.
1. ESG Investments Earn Lower Returns
While some impact investors proceed with an open acknowledgment that they may underperform the market, others look to ESG investment strategies that are designed to achieve positive impact without sacrificing competitive returns. Two such approaches are ESG Tilt and ESG Momentum.
ESG Tilt overweights companies with above-average ESG attributes. In a 2015 MSCI report, ESG Tilt strategies outperformed the MSCI World benchmark over the eight-year study period. So did ESG Momentum, a related ESG integration approach that overweights companies showing the greatest improvement in their ESG footprint.
“Of all the investment vehicles that integrate ESG factors with US large-cap stocks, Momentum provides investors with the highest probability of generating excess returns while investing alongside their values,” said Casey Clark, director of sustainable and impact investing at Glenmede.
2. Shareholder Engagement Doesn’t Work
In fact, there is evidence that shareholder engagement can be successful. Take Occidental Petroleum, for example. Shareholders at Occidental’s annual meeting in 2017 successfully passed a resolution calling on the company to report on how climate change (and policy responses to climate change) could impact the business. Meanwhile, in 2016 the California Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) changed its corporate governance principles to require board members of the companies it invests in to have expertise in climate change risk management.
The shareholder movement seems to be gaining momentum, with major investors like BlackRock joining the ranks of shareholders that engage with companies on ESG issues. In fact, it was BlackRock’s support that helped pass the resolution at Occidental, which many considered historic.
Though it’s important to note that almost all resolutions are legally nonbinding, shareholder engagement can help effectively send singals to management at public companies.
3. There Aren’t Many Options for ESG Investors
There were 36 sustainable investing funds launched in 2016 and 40 in 2017, including 28 mutual funds and a dozen EFTs.
What’s more, a wider variety of options are coming to market thanks to a surge in available data. For example, about 20% of companies in the S&P 500 stock index provided detailed ESG information in 2011. By 2018, that number has increased to 85 percent, according to the Governance and Accountability Institute.
While some may find this recent activity exciting, investors typically wait three to five years for a fund to build a track record before investing. That said, it is a promising sign that more options are making their way to the market.
4. ESG Investing Is a Passing Fad
This myth seems unlikely to hold up, too. For one thing, ESG investing is no longer the province of lone investors or small charities. The big guns of traditional investing—State Street Global Advisors, BlackRock, and Putnam Investments—all now have ESG offerings. That’s in addition to investment firms that specialize only in ESG strategies. BlackRock has put companies on notice that their ESG performance, especially their hiring of women in leadership positions, will be emphasized going forward.
And as younger generations of investors come of age, the popularity of impact investing stands to keep growing. InvestmentNews reports that 77% of wealthy millennials have made an impact investment, compared to only 30% of baby boomers and older generations.
It’s important for investors to be able to tune out the static when making ESG investments. Knowing the truth about the four leading ESG investing myths will make doing that so much easier.