Industry Updates

Fossil fuel divestment ETF with serious bite

David Tuckwell

The fossil free movement encourages investors to dump fossil fuel companies from their portfolios. It began on university campuses in the US, animated by the belief that divestment can help build political action on global warming.

And now it has come to ETFs.

Change Finance, a Colorado-based investment advisor, has listed the world's first ETF that categorically excludes fossil fuels from its index, The Change Finance Diversified Impact US Large Cap Fossil Fuel Free ETF (CHGX).

While socially responsible ETFs are becoming more common, this is the first ETF to have this kind of bite.

"Fossil fuel-free is essential, but CHGX then goes further," said Donna Morton, Change Finance CEO. "[It excludes] companies that are serious polluters, that have significant human or labor rights violations, and that fail to meet a variety of other social and environmental standards."

Many SRI ETFs end up investing in fossil fuel companies, or companies with dubious environmental records. Index providers, often with one eye or two on performance will use SRI criteria that can surprise some investors.

Rather than taking its criteria from a big index provider, CHGX uses the SRI framework laid out by the United Nations in its Sustainable Development Goals.

While stressing the SRI elements of its new ETF, Change Finance also stresses that it is "performance-oriented" and cares about "impact and income."

"Think of us as inspired by the values of "Occupy," but powered by the acumen of Wall St," said Andrew Rodriguez, Change Finance President.

The company dismisses the trade-off between profit and planet as a "false choice", claiming that research suggests fossil fuel companies can be screened out of portfolios without affecting returns.

The way CHGX works is that it takes the 1,000 largest American companies and excludes those it judges to do "bad", like those in oil, gas and coal. It then grades companies based on how well they do by the environment, their staff, women and aboriginal people - among other things. The top 100 in the class then get selected, with an equal weighting of 1%.

The ETF is managed by Exchange Traded Concepts, the world's biggest white labeler. CHGX's expense ratio is 0.75%, meaning would-be investors will have to pay more than double the average ETF to do the right thing.

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