Tag Archives: Impact Investing

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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Viviers, S. and Eccles, N.S. (2012), “35 years of socially responsible investing (SRI) research-general trends over time”, South African Journal of Business Management, Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 1-16.

Willis, A. (2003), “The role of the global reporting initiative’s sustainability reporting guidelines in the social screening of investments”, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 233-237.

Walker, H. and Brammer, S. (2009), “Sustainable procurement in the United Kingdom public sector”, Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 128-137.

 

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The Development of Responsible Investing

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Given the growing importance of responsible investing, it could be surprising that there is still no consensus of what the SRI term means to the investors (Sparkes & Cowton, 2004). The roots of the SRI notion can be traced back to various religious movements. Back in 1758, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) prohibited members from participating in the slave trade. At the time, one of the founders of Methodism, John Wesley outlined his basic tenets of social investing. He preached about responsible business practices and to avoid certain industries that could harm the health and safety of workers. Hence, the best-known applications of socially responsible investing were initially motivated by religion (Sparkes, 2003). This may well reflect the fact that the first investors to set ethical parameters on investment portfolios were church investors in the U.K., U.S., and Australia (Sparkes & Cowton, 2004). The churches also played a prominent role in the development of ‘ethical’ investment products (Benijts, 2010; McCann, Solomon & Solomon, 2003; Lydenberg, 2002). Sparkes (2001) defined the ethical investments as the exercise of ethical and social criteria in the selection and management of investment portfolios, generally consisting of company shares. However, he argued that ethical investing could have been more appropriate to describe non-profitmaking bodies such as churches, charities, and environmental groups (rather than companies). The author went on to suggest that value-based organisations applied internal ethical principles to their investment strategies.

Very often the ‘ethical investment’ has been considered as perfectly synonymous with the ‘socially responsible investment’ term including in the dedicated academic journals where one might expect that the concepts are clearly defined (Capelle‐Blancard & Monjon, 2012). Schueth (2003: 189) also noted that ‘the terms social investing, socially responsible investing, ethical investing, socially aware investing, socially conscious investing, green investing, value-based investing, and mission-based or mission-related investing all refer to the same general process and are often used interchangeably’. Likewise, Hellsten & Mallin (2006: 393) have used the terms “ethical investments” and “socially responsible investments” interchangeably. However, it may appear that there seems to be a progressive decline in the use of the term ‘ethics’ within the SRI debate. In part, this may reflect the fact that many people felt uncomfortable about using the word ‘ethical’ to describe investment matters. “Any individual or group who truly care about ethical, moral, religious or political principles should in theory, at least want to invest their money in accordance with their principles” (Miller, 1992, p. 248). The original ‘ethical investors’ were church investment bodies. It is only in the past decades that such a perspective has been explicitly reflected in dedicated SRI retail funds (Sparkes & Cowton, 2004). Since their inception in the U.S. (1971) and in the U.K. (1984) the basic model that was used by SRI retail funds has been to base their ‘ethics’ upon an avoidance approach; whereby, responsible investors avoided having shares in unethical companies (Schepers & Sethi, 2003).

 

SRI has evolved during the political climate of the 1960s as socially concerned investors were increasingly addressing equality for women and minority groups (Schueth, 2003). This time was characterised by activism through boycotts and direct action that has targeted specific corporations (Rojas, M’zali, Turcotte & Merrigan, 2009; Carroll, 1999). Yet, there were also interesting developments, particularly when trade unions introduced their multi-employer pension fund monies to targeted investments. During the 70s, a series of themes ranging from the anti-Vietnam war movement to civil rights, to issues related to equality rights for women, have served to escalate the sensitivity to some issues of social responsibility and accountability. These movements broadened to include management, labour relations and anti-nuclear sentiment. Trade unions also sought to leverage pension stocks for shareholder activism on proxy fights and shareholder resolutions (Guay et al, 2004; Gillan & Starks, 2000; Smith, 1996).

In 1971, Reverend Leon Sullivan (at the time he was board member for General Motors) had drafted a code of conduct for the practicing business in South Africa; which became known as the Sullivan Principles (Wright & Ferris, 1997; Arnold & Hammond, 1994; Sullivan, 1983). However, relevant reports that documented the application of the Sullivan Principles revealed that the US companies did not lessen their discrimination toward the native South African people. Thus, there were US investors as well as large corporations who have decided to divest from these ‘irresponsible’ companies. In 1976, the United Nations has also imposed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa (Nayar, 1978). The ranks of the socially concerned investors had grown dramatically through the 1980s as millions of people, churches, universities, cities and states were increasingly focusing their pressures on the white minority government (of South Africa) to dismantle the racist system. The subsequent negative flow of investment eventually forced a group of businesses, representing 75% of South African employers, to draft a charter calling for an end to the apartheid. While the SRI efforts alone did not bring an end to discrimination, it has mounted persuasive international pressure on the South African business community.

Advances in the SRI agenda were being made in other contexts. By 1980 presidential candidates; Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown advocated some type of social orientation toward investments in pension funds (Gray, 1983; Barber, 1982). Afterwards in the mid to late 1990s there were health awareness campaigns that effected the tobacco stocks in the US (Krumsiek, 1997). For instance, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) removed more than $237 million in tobacco holdings from its investment portfolio after 6 months of financial analysis and deliberations (Reynolds, Goldberg & Hurley, 2004). Arguably, such a divestment strategy may have satisfied the ethical principal of non-harming, but did not necessarily create a positive social impact (Lane, 2015).

During the late 1990s, SRI had also focused on the sustainable development of the environment (Richardson, 2008; Brundtland, 1989). Many investors started to consider their environmental responsibility following the Bhopal, Chernobyl and Exxon Valdez incidents. The international media began to raise awareness on the global warming and on the ozone depletion (Pienitz & Vincent, 2000). It may appear that the environmental protection and climate change issues were becoming important issues for many responsible investors. However, it may appear that businesses have failed to become more sustainable in their ecological dimension as the human ecological footprint exceeds the Earth’s capacity to sustain life by 60% (Global Footprint Network, 2016). At the same time, global resource consumption and land degradation is constantly impacting on the natural environment; as arable land continues to disappear. Evidently, the world’s growing populations and their increased wealth is inevitably leading to greater demands for limited and scarce resources. These are some of the issues that have become somewhat important rallying points for many institutional investors.

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Responsible Investing: Making a Positive Impact

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Impact investing is one of the fastest growing and promising areas of innovative development finance (Thornley, Wood, Grace & Sullivant, 2011; Freireich & Fulton, 2009). This form of socially-responsible investment (SRI) also has its roots in the venture capital community where investors unlock a substantial volume of private and public capital into companies, organisations and funds – with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.

The stakeholders or actors in the impact investing industry can be divided into four broad categories: asset owners who actually own capital; asset managers who deploy capital; demand-side actors who receive and utilise the capital; and service providers who help make this market work.

Impact investments can be made in both emerging and developed markets, and target a range of returns from below market to market rate; depending on the investors’ strategic goals. Bugg-Levine and Emerson (2011) argued that impact investing aligns the businesses’ investments and purchase decisions with their values. Defining exactly what is (and what is not) an impact investment has become increasingly important as it appears that the term has taken off among academia and practitioners.

The impact investments are usually characterised by market organisations that are driven by a core group of proponents including foundations, high-net worth individuals, family offices, investment banks and development finance institutions. Responsible entities are mobilising capital for ‘investments that are intended to create social impact beyond financial returns’ (Jackson, 2013; Freireich & Fulton 2009). Specific examples of impact investments may include; micro-finance, community development finance, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, conservation, micro-finance and affordable and accessible basic services, including; housing, healthcare, education and clean technology among others.

Micro-finance institutions in developing countries and affordable housing schemes in developed countries have been the favorite vehicles for these responsible investments, though impact investors are also beginning to diversify across a wider range of sectors (see Saltuk, Bouri, & Leung 2011; Harji & Jackson 2012). Nevertheless, micro-finance has represented an estimated 50% of European impact investing assets (EUROSIF, 2014). This form of investing has grown to an estimated €20 billion market in Europe alone (EUROSIF, 2014). The Netherlands and Switzerland were key markets for this investment strategy, as they represented an estimated two thirds of these assets. These markets were followed by Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Generally, the investors’ intent is to ensure that they achieve positive impacts in society. Therefore, they would in turn expect tangible evidence of positive outcomes (and impacts) of their capital. Arguably, the evaluation capacity of impact investing could increase opportunities for dialogue and exchange. Therefore, practitioners are encouraged to collaborate, exchange perspectives and tools to strengthen their practices in ways that could advance impact investing. The process behind on-going encounters and growing partnerships could surely be facilitated through conferences, workshops, online communities and pilot projects. Moreover, audit and assurance ought to be continuously improved as institutions and investors need to be equipped with the best knowledge about evaluation methods. Hence, it is imperative that University and college courses are designed, tested and refined to improve the quality of education as well as  professional training and development in evaluating responsible investments.

For evaluation to be conducted with ever more precision and utility, it must be informed by mobilising research and analytics. Some impact investing funds and intermediaries are already using detailed research and analysis on investment portfolios and target sectors. At the industry-wide level, the work of the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and IRIS (a catalogue of generally accepted Environmental, Social and Governance – ESG performance metrics) is generating large datasets as well as a series of case studies on collaborative impact investments. Similarly, the Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS) also issues quarterly analytics reports on companies and their respective funds in industry metrics (Camilleri, 2015).

For the most part, those responsible businesses often convert positive impact-investment outcomes into tangible benefits for the poor and the marginalised people (Garriga & Melé, 2004). Such outcomes may include increased greater food security, improved housing, higher incomes, better access to affordable services (e.g. water, energy, health, education, finance), environmental protection, and the like (Jackson, 2013).

Interestingly, high sustainability companies significantly outperform their counterparts over the long-term, both in terms of stock market and accounting performance (Eccles, Ioannou & Serafeim, 2012). This out-performance is stronger in sectors where the customers are individual consumers, rather than companies (Eccles et al., 2012).

It may be complicated and time-consuming to quantify how enterprises create various forms of humanitarian and environmental value, yet some approaches and analytical tools can help to address today’s societal challenges, including the return on impact investments in social and sustainability projects.

References

Bugg-Levine, A., & Emerson, J. (2011). Impact investing: Transforming how we make money while making a difference. innovations, 6(3), 9-18.
Camilleri, M. A. (2015). Environmental, social and governance disclosures in Europe. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 6(2), 224-242.

Eccles, R. G., Ioannou, I., & Serafeim, G. (2012). The impact of a corporate culture of sustainability on corporate behavior and performance (No. W17950). National Bureau of Economic Research.

EUROSIF (2014). Press Release: 6th Sustainable and Responsible Investment Study 2014. Europe-based national Sustainable Investment Forums. http://www.eurosif.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Press-Release-European-SRI-Study-2014-English-version.pdf (Accessed 14 May 2016).

Freireich, J., & Fulton, K. (2009). Investing for social and environmental impact: A design for catalyzing an emerging industry. Monitor Institute, January.

Garriga, E., & Melé, D. (2004). Corporate social responsibility theories: Mapping the territory. Journal of business ethics, 53(1-2), 51-71.

Harji, K., & Jackson, E. T. (2012). Accelerating impact: Achievements, challenges and what’s next in building the impact investing industry. New York, NY: The Rockefeller Foundation.

Jackson, E. T. (2013). Interrogating the theory of change: evaluating impact investing where it matters most. Journal of Sustainable Finance & Investment, 3(2), 95-110.

Saltuk, Y., Bouri, A., & Leung, G. (2011). Insight into the impact investment market: An in-depth analysis of investor perspectives and over 2,200 transactions. New York, NY: J.P. Morgan.

Thornley, B., Wood, D., Grace, K., & Sullivant, S. (2011). Impact Investing a Framework for Policy Design and Analysis. InSight at Pacific Community Ventures & The Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University.

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