ESG funds – green sustainable investing or a marketing gimic?

In recent months I have been looking at all aspects of my life to assess where I can lighten my ecological footprint and, within my personal sphere of influence, positively encourage global warming mitigation action.

Naturally for someone interested in personal finance, the question arises whether there are ways to invest in companies that have more progressive stances on the environment and, likewise, avoid certain firms or industries which don’t.

One approach that is becoming increasingly popular is ESG investing. ESG refers to Environmental, Social and Governance, three key factors in measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a particular company. The concept picks up environmental concerns (eg. climate change and sustainability), social concerns (eg. diversity, human rights, consumer protection and animal welfare) and corporate governance (eg. executive pay, employee relations and compensation). All good things in my mind, and aligned with my values.

Like anything though, it is important to look beyond the surface and unfortunately ESG doesn’t necessarily mean as green, sustainable or ethical as I assumed. Digging a little deeper has me questioning whether ESG funds are materially different from other investment options, especially within an index fund. At a more fundamental level, I’m also questioning whether attempting to invest in sustainable companies makes sense or if there better ways to allocate my money and time.

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