With concerns around climate change increasingly rife - we all know someone who's suddenly become a vegan - questions around responsible investing are inevitable. The insertion of Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) or Social Responsible Investing (SRI), or Responsible Investing (RI) in investment is increasingly prevalent and access is now becoming even easier with more funds on offer, but does it boost returns?
Well, the research backs up the ESG trend. According to a recent study from RBC Global Asset Management, 90% of institutional investors believe ESG integrated portfolios are likely to perform as well or better than non-ESG integrated portfolios. This is a change in thinking, which previously found that integrating ESG factors it diminished returns.
Research from the CFA Institute on EU-based members shows the majority of respondents reporting that ESG factors should be considered by managers when making investment decisions. The "Evolving Future of ESG Integration in Investment Analysis" report finds that 85% of respondents believe it is appropriate, while 44% of respondents found it appropriate for regulators to legislate that ESG considerations be an integral part of the legal fiduciary duty owed to investment management clients.
It also found that only 14% of respondents did not incorporate ESG principles because of no clear link between sustainability and financial performance. The main reason for not including them, for 37% of respondents, was that there are no set standards ensuring the soundness of methodologies.
One thing that is clear about ESG is that it is not a quick pay-off, instead it's a long-term play. A study from RCM, analysed the impact of ESG issues on portfolio performance over the period 2006 to 2010. "The study found that socially responsible firms in the early years of the time series received less favourable recommendations because the concept was considered a fad, or worse as value-destroying. But this reversed strongly in the later years of the study as the issue fully entered the investing consciousness and analysts evinced approval of strong corporate ESG strategies."
There are still some hurdles that ESG has to overcome. The consensus from market watchers is that there shouldn't be any regulations to incorporate ESG, but there seems to be a need for consensus on methodologies. Similarly, there needs to be a balance on incorporating ESG factors but not excluding or eliminating big successful companies in the process.
In these terms, ESG still divides opinion and the concept of poor returns by using ESG factors has been a hard one to break, but research and data is slowly emerging contradicting the theory that ESG factors impact returns.
According to the FT, more than 2,200 academic studies undertaken in the past 40 years have examined the relationship between ESG factors and corporate financial performance. More than 90 per cent of them have found that ESG factors have a positive or neutral impact on financial returns, according to a meta-study by Friede & Busch
This change in thinking now raises the question not whether to incorporate ESG, but how to do it.
This is good news for a space that has been slow to establish itself as part of the investment landscape. The MSCI ESG Leaders Index target companies that have the highest ESG rated performance in each sector of the parent index. The MSCI World ESG Leaders Index is up 10.87% over the last year to 28 September.
There are a number of ESG focused ETFs listed on the London Stock Exchange, the majority are listed below, but there are more to come. Only last month iShares launched a range of ESG ETFs.
The biggest of all these ETFs is the iShares MSCI Europe SRI UCITS ETF (IESG), which has only $374m and was launched in February 2011. In fact, there assets in the ETF listed below is relatively small.
ETF3M RTNTERINDEXiShares MSCI Japan ESG Screened UCITS ETFn/a0.2%MSCI Japan ESG Screened IndexiShares MSCI Japan ESG Screened UCITS ETFn/a0.2%MSCI Japan ESG Screened IndexiShares MSCI USA ESG Screened UCITS ETFn/a0.2%MSCI USA ESG Screened IndexiShares MSCI USA ESG Screened UCITS ETFn/a0.2%MSCI USA ESG Screened IndexiShares JP Morgan ESG USD EM Bond UCITS ETFn/a0.45%JP Morgan ESG EMBI Global Diversified indexiShares JP Morgan ESG USD EM Bond UCITS ETFn/a0.45%JP Morgan ESG EMBI Global Diversified indexiShares MSCI Europe ESG Screened UCITS ETFn/a0.12%MSCI Europe ESG Screened IndexiShares MSCI Europe ESG Screened UCITS ETFn/a0.12%MSCI Europe ESG Screened IndexiShares MSCI EMU ESG Screened UCITS ETFn/a0.12%MSCI EMU ESG Screened IndexiShares MSCI World ESG Screened UCITS ETFn/a0.20%MSCI World ESG Screened IndexiShares MSCI World ESG Screened UCITS ETFn/a0.20%MSCI World ESG Screened IndexiShares MSCI EMU ESG Screened UCITS ETFn/a0.12%MSCI EMU ESG Screened IndexOssiam ESG Low Carbon Shiller Barclays Cape US Sector UCITS ETF-3.42%0.85%Shiller Barclays CAPE US Sector Value Net TR IndexOssiam ESG Low Carbon Shiller Barclays Cape US Sector UCITS ETF-1.94%0.85%Shiller Barclays CAPE US Sector Value Net TR IndexiShares MSCI Europe SRI UCITS ETF-7.42%0.30%MSCI Europe SRI IndexLyxor MSCI EM ESG Trend Leaders UCITS ETF-7.53%0.30%MSCI EM Select ESG Rating and Trend Leaders Net Return USD IndexLyxor MSCI USA ESG Trend Leaders DR UCITS ETFn/a0.25%MSCI USA Select ESG Rating and Trend Leaders Net Return USD IndexLyxor MSCI World ESG Trend Leaders DR UCITS ETF-4.57%0.30%MSCI World Select ESG Rating and Trend Leaders Net Return USD IndexXtrackers ESG MSCI USA UCITS ETF-2.58%0.20%MSCI USA ESG Leaders Low Carbon Ex Tobacco Involvement 5% IndexXtrackers ESG MSCI Japan UCITS ETF-4.93%0.30%MSCI Japan ESG Leaders Low Carbon Ex Tobacco Involvement 5% IndexXtrackers ESG MSCI World UCITS ETF-3.76%0.30%MSCI World ESG Lea Leaders Low Carbon Ex Tobacco Involvement 5% IndexXtrackers ESG MSCI Europe UCITS ETF-7.79%0.30%MSCI Europe ESG Leaders Low Carbon Ex Tobacco Involvement 5% IndexLyxor MSCI EMU ESG Trend Leaders DR UCITS ETF-8.78%0.20%MSCI EMU Select ESG Rating and Trend Leaders Net Return EUR Index