Tag Archives: Ethibel Sustainability Index

The market for socially responsible investing

This is an excerpt from my latest paper, entitled: “The market for socially responsible investing: A review of the developments”. 

How to Cite: Camilleri, M.A. (2020). The market for socially responsible investing: A review of the developments. Social Responsibility Journal. DOI. 10.1108/SRJ-06-2019-0194.


There are various ratings and reference indices that are utilized by investors to evaluate financial and SRI portfolios (Scalet and Kelly, 2010). Typically, the SRI indices constitute a relevant proxy as they evaluate the ESG performance of listed businesses (Joliet and Titova, 2018; Le Sourd, 2011). A large number of SR contractors, analysts and research firms are increasingly specializing in the collection of ESG information as they perform ongoing analyses of corporate behaviors (Dumas and Louche, 2016). Many of them maintain a database and use it to provide their clients with a thorough ESG analysis (including proxy advice), benchmarks and engagement strategies of corporations. They publish directories of ethical and SRI funds, as they outline their investment strategies, screening criteria, and voting policies (Leite and Cortez, 2014). In a sense, these data providers support the responsible investors in their selection of funds.

 

SRI Indices, Ratings and Information Providers

KLD / Jantzi Global Environmental Index, Jantzi Research, Ethical Investment Research Service (Vigeo EIRIS) and Innovest (among others) analyze the corporations’ socially responsible and environmentally-sound behaviors as reported in Table 1. Some of their indices (to name a few) shed light about the impact of products (e.g. resource use, waste), the production processes (e.g. logging, pesticides), or proactive corporate activities (e.g. clean energy, recycling). Similarly, social issues are also a common category for these contractors. In the main, the SRI indices benchmark different types of firms hailing from diverse industries and sectors. They adjust their weighting for specific screening criteria as they choose which firms to include (or exclude) from their indices (Leite and Cortez, 2014; Scalet and Kelly, 2010). One of the oldest SRI indices for CSR and Sustainability ratings is the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. The companies that are featured in the Dow Jones Indices are analyzed by the Sustainable Asset Management (SAM) Group (i.e. a Swiss asset management company). Another popular SRI index is FTSE Russell’s KLD’s Domini 400 Social Index (also known as the KLD400) which partners with the Financial Times on a range of issues. Similarly, the Financial Times partners with an ESG research firm (i.e. EIRES) to construct its FTSE4 Good Index series. Smaller FTSE Responsible Investment Indices include the Catholic Values Index, the Calvert Social Index, the FTSE4Good indices, and the Dow Jones family of SRI Indices, among others. The KLD400 index screens the companies’ performance on a set of ESG criteria. It eliminates those companies that are involved in non-eligible industries. Impax, a specialist finance house (that focuses on the markets for cleaner or more efficient delivery of basic services of energy, water and waste) also maintain a group of FTSE Indices that are related to environmental technologies and business activities (FTSE Environment Technology and Environmental Opportunities). The Catholic Values Index uses the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines (i.e. positive screening approach) to scrutinize eligible companies (e.g., corporations with generous wage and benefit policies, or those who create environmentally beneficial technologies). This index could also exclude certain businesses trading in “irresponsible” activities. listed businesses according to their social audit of four criteria: the company’s products, their impact on the environment, labor relations, and community relations. The latter “community relations” variable includes issues such as the treatment of indigenous people, provision of local credit, operations of overseas subsidiaries, and the like. The responsible companies are then featured in the Index when and if they meet Calvert’s criteria. This index also maintains a target economic sector weighting scheme. Other smaller indices include; Ethibel Sustainability Index for Belgian (and other European) companies and OMX GES Ethical Index for Scandinavian companies, among others.

 

Table 1. Screenings of Responsible Investments

Positive Screens Negative Screens
Community Investment Alcohol
Employment / Equality Animal Testing
Environment Defence / Weapons
Human Rights Gambling
Labour Relations Tobacco
Proxy Voting

 

Generally, these SRI indices are considered as investment benchmarks. In a nutshell, SRI Indices have spawned a range of products, including index mutual funds, ETFs, and structured products (Riedl and Smeets, 2017). A wide array of SRI mutual funds regularly evaluate target companies and manage their investment portfolios. Therefore, they are expected to consider other important criteria such as risk and return targets (Trinks et al., 2018; Leite and Cortez, 2015; Humphrey and Lee, 2011). For instance, iShares lists two ETFs based on the KLD Index funds, and the Domini itself offers a number of actively managed mutual funds based on both ESG and community development issues (such as impact investments). In addition, there are research and ratings vendors who also manage a series of mutual funds, including Calvert and Domini (Scalet and Kelly, 2010).

 

Discussion

The SRI indices serve as a ‘seal of approval’ function for the responsible businesses that want to prove their positive impact investment credentials to their stakeholders. Currently, there are many factors that may be contributing for the growth of SRI:

 

Firstly, one of the most important factors for the proliferation of SRI is the access to information. Today’s investors are increasingly using technologies, including mobile devices and their related applications to keep them up to date on the most recent developments in business and society. Certain apps inform investors on the latest movements in the financial markets, in real-time. Notwithstanding, the SRI contractors are providing much higher quality data than ever before. As a result, all investors are in a position to take informed decisions that are based on evidence and research. Investors and analysts use “extra-financial information” to help them analyze investment decisions (GRI, 2019; Diouf and Boiral, 2017). This “extra-financial information” includes ESG disclosures on non-financial issues (Brooks and Oikonomou, 2018). These sources of information will encourage many businesses and enterprises to report on their responsible and sustainable practices (Diouf and Boiral, 2017). The companies’ integrated thinking could be a precursor for their integrated reporting (Camilleri, 2018; 2017b; GRI, 2019). Business can use integrated disclosures, where they provide details on their financial as well as on their non-financial information for the benefit of prospective investors and analysts, among other stakeholders.

 

Secondly, the gender equality issue has inevitably led to some of the most significant developments in the financial services industry. Nowadays, there are more emancipated women who are in employment, who are gainfully occupied as they are actively contributing in the labor market. Many women are completing higher educational programs and attaining relevant qualifications including MBA programs. Very often, these women move their way up the career ladder with large organizations. They may even become members on boards of directors and assume fiduciary duties and responsibilities. Other women are becoming entrepreneurs as they start their own business. During the last decades, an increased equality in the developed economies has led to SRI’s prolific growth. As a result, women are no longer the only the beneficiaries of social finance, as they are building a complete ecosystem of social investing (Maretick, 2015). “By 2020 women are expected to hold $72trn, 32% of the total. Most of the private wealth that changes hands in the coming decades is likely to go to women (The Economist, 2018). This wave of wealth is set to land in the laps of female investors who have shown positive attitudes toward social investing, when compared to their male counterparts. Maretick (2015) reported that half of the wealthiest women expressed an interest in social and environmental investing when compared to one-third of the wealthy men.

 

Thirdly, today’s investors are increasingly diversifying their portfolio of financial products. The default investment is the market portfolio, which is a value-weighted portfolio of all investable securities (Trinks and Scholtens, 2017). A growing body of evidence suggests that many investors do not necessarily have to sacrifice performance when they invest in socially responsible or environmentally sustainable assets. A relevant literature review denied the contention that social screening could result in corporate underperformance (Trinks and Scholtens, 2017; Lobe and Walkshäusl, 2011; Salaber 2013). Investors have realized that strategic corporate responsibility is congruent with prosperity (Porter and Kramer, 2011; Schueth, 2003). In fact, today’s major asset classes including global, international, domestic equity, balanced and fixed-income categories also comprise top-performing socially responsible mutual funds (Riedl and Smeets, 2017). Therefore, various financial products are reflecting the investors’ values and beliefs (Fritz and von Schnurbein, 2019). Consequentially, the broad range of competitive socially responsible investment options have resulted in diverse, well-balanced portfolios. In the U.S. and in other western economies, top-performing SRI funds can be found in all major asset classes. More and more investors are realizing that they can add value to their portfolios whilst supporting socially and environmental causes.

 

Fourthly, there are economic justifications for the existence of mutual funds in diversified portfolios. Although SRI funds are rated well above average performers no matter which ranking process one prefers to use (Scalet and Kelly, 2010; Schueth, 2003), other literature suggests that there are situations where the positive or negative screens did not add nor destroy the financial products’ portfolio value (Auer, 2016; Trinks and Scholtens, 2017; Hofmann et al., 2009). This matter can result in having mixed investments where there are SRI products that are marketed with other financial portfolios.

Currently, the financial industry is witnessing a consumer-driven phenomenon as there is a surge in demand for social investments. This paper mentioned a number of organizations that have developed indices to measure the organizational behaviors and their laudable practices. Very often, their metrics rely on positive or negative screens that are used to define socially responsible and sustainable investments (Leite and Cortez, 2014; Hofmann et al., 2009). However, despite these developments, the balanced investors are still investing their portfolio in different industries. As a result, they may be putting their money to support controversial businesses. Perhaps, in the future there could be alternative screening methods in addition to the extant inclusionary and exclusionary approaches. Several corporations are willingly disclosing their integrated reporting of financial and non-financial performance; as stakeholders including investors, demand a higher degree of accountability and transparency from them (Diouf and Boiral, 2017). As a result, a growing number of firms, are recognizing the business case for integrated thinking that incorporates financial and strategic corporate responsible behaviors. They can support the community through positive impact investments by allocating funds to reduce their externalities in society. Alternatively, they may facilitate shareholder activism and advocacy, among other actions (Viviers and Eccles, 2012). In sum, the responsible businesses’ stakeholder engagement as well as their sustainable investments can help them improve their bottom lines, whilst addressing their societal and community deficits.

 

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An Introduction to Socially Responsible Investment

Socially responsible investment (SRI) is the practice of incorporating social and environmental goals into investment decisions. Therefore, SRI is a strategy that encourages corporate practices that promote social responsibility and laudable initiatives such as impact investing, shareholder advocacy and community investing (Sparkes & Cowton, 2004; Guay, Doh & Sinclair, 2004; Schueth, 2003). At the same time, the rationale behind SRI is to consider both financial return as well as responsible investments for societal development. Its goals are based upon environmental issues, human rights, community involvement and labour relations (Ooi & Lajbcygier 2013; Sparkes, 2003; Friedman & Miles, 2001).

SRI’s professionally managed assets have emerged as a dynamic and quickly growing segment of the U.S. financial services industry (Schueth, 2003). In many cases, responsible and sustainable investments are influencing how asset managers invest in diversified portfolios (Lemke & Lins, 2014). This term refers to responsible investments that seek to avoid negative externalities. In fact, the investment portfolios of listed companies are often screened by SRI contractors (Renneboog, Ter Horst & Zhang, 2008). In fact, in recent years, SRI funds have become a popular investment opportunity. Many investors are attracted to businesses that will yield return on investment. Yet, it may appear that a large and growing segment of the population possess a spiritual yearning to integrate personal values into all aspects of life, including finance and investing (Schueth, 2003). As a result, many conscientious investors were avoiding businesses that are involved in alcohol, tobacco, fast food, gambling, pornography, weapons, contraception and abortion, fossil fuel production, and / or the military industries, among others (Logue, 2009; Ronneborg et al., 2008; Ghoul & Karam, 2007; Statman, 2000). In addition, responsible investors have become increasingly aware about the numerous instances of accounting fraud and other scandals that may have eroded their trust in corporate leadership. The areas of concern recognised by the SRI practitioners are often denoted under the heading of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, including social justice, human rights, anti-corruption and bribery issues and diversity on the boards (Camilleri, 2015).

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Filed under Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, CSR, Socially Responsible Investment, SRI