What to Know About ESG in 2023
What is ESG, and how is it defined?
ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) investing is becoming ever-more popular, and inflows into ESG strategies are expected to outpace inflows into traditional index funds, but it can be difficult to understand the complexities of it.
First, let’s define exactly what we mean when we say an investment strategy is ESG focused, and then cover the different ESG strategies that dominate the markets.
ESG at its core is a framework for examining stocks outside of traditional financial metrics such as earnings or margins. For example environmental factors may include a company's carbon footprint and water usage, while social criteria could focus on labor practices or diversity initiatives, and governance considerations might include executive compensation or board structure.
With data only recently made widely available, investors can now choose to invest in companies or funds that do a better job of gender equality, or carbon emission reductions etc. The key point is that ESG data allows investors to consider their investments from both a financial lens and a set of lenses focused on non-financial, but environmentally and socially important, factors.
With such a broad definition of ESG, investors need to determine how they want to incorporate ESG into their portfolios – such as thematic investing (focusing on specific areas), impact investing (targeting investments that aim to create measurable social or environmental outcomes), or core sustainability (including basic ESG criteria in traditional investment decisions).
The Different Types of ESG Investing
There are multiple ways to think about making strategic investments when it comes to the world of ESG. Below, we'll cover the different types of ESG investing to help you navigate through them and ask the right questions as you build and make changes to your investment portfolio:
Thematic ESG investing is a strategy that focuses on specific environmentally or socially conscious themes. It involves an in-depth review of the sustainability practices and performance of companies, as well as identifying those companies with potential to benefit from emerging trends, such as green energy infrastructure or renewable energy sources. Investors may choose to use this strategy to gain exposure to high growth sectors while also taking into consideration their own ethical standards when selecting investments.
Examples of thematic ESG funds include PAVE, a fund focused on investing in infrastructure development or TAN which invests solely in the solar sector.
This type of ESG investing has become increasingly popular, offering investors the opportunity to align their values with their portfolios. To identify promising thematic investment opportunities, investors will need to do extensive research and analysis of relevant industries and stocks that help further sustainability goals.
Impact investing is a type of ESG investing that focuses on creating measurable positive change in the environment and society. This form of investing involves actively seeking out investments with environmental or social criteria in mind, such as affordable housing, clean energy, health care access, poverty alleviation, and sustainable agriculture. Instead of just considering financial returns, investors evaluate the potential impact of an investment and analyze how it could improve the lives of people or reduce negative environmental impacts.
When it comes to measuring success for these types of investments, there are two primary metrics – financial return and impact outcome. Investors should strive to measure both to ensure maximum returns for their investment dollars. Additionally, investors should look for companies whose business models aim to provide measurable benefits.
Core sustainability ESG investing is a strategy that focuses on integrating basic environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria into traditional investment decisions. This form of investing looks to identify companies with strong ESG credentials and screen out those with weak policies or performance in areas such as human capital management, diversity initiatives, carbon footprint reduction, or data privacy.
It's important to note that core sustainability ESG investing does not have the same emphasis on creating measurable positive impact as other forms of ESG investing. Instead it seeks to minimize risk by avoiding companies whose practices may be deemed unethical or unsustainable, or to tilt investments towards ESG factors. Investors must evaluate each company individually to ensure they are taking appropriate measures in the areas outlined above before electing to invest in them.
How can you make sure you're making the right ESG investments?
This part is hard. In general, without access to gated ESG data, making good calls in this sphere can be really difficult. But in general, you should make sure to look at the level of transparency and public disclosure, as well as factors such as whether the investments are independent from corporate influence or any hidden agendas. Doing your own research into ESG investments is essential, since you'll be making decisions that align closely with your values and beliefs.
Ultimately, it's important to remember that regardless of the strategy used, investors should have a long-term outlook when investing in ESG markets and understand that returns may not come immediately. With strategic planning, careful selection of investments and appropriate diversification, investors can build a portfolio that suits their ethical criteria while realizing potential financial rewards in the long run.
By leveraging new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), investors can also gain access to valuable insights that help them make more informed decisions when it comes to ESG investments. AI and ML can be used to identify trends in the market and process large amounts of data quickly, helping investors better understand how ESG factors weigh into their investments’ performance. With the right approach and resources, investors can navigate the ESG investing landscape with confidence.
How can a financial advisor help me?
Finally, the right financial advisor or wealth manager can help you navigate through and make decisions on all of the above. A financial advisor focused and specialized in ESG can provide quality guidance on the specific types of ESG investments that best fit with your goals, values, and risk tolerance. They can also help analyze potential risks associated with certain investments and make recommendations for how to diversify a portfolio effectively.
For those investors looking for something more custom and tax efficient than traditional portfolio construction, some advisors are able to offer clients custom portfolios and financial products like Direct Indexing that reflect their investment ethics while tracking a major index like the S&P 500. These portfolios can fit in to any of the categories above and also offer the advantage of being more tax efficient and customizable.