Sustainable investing is the process of investing in sustainable companies or funds. Some people call this ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing, others simply “ethical investing”.
Whatever the terminology, this form of investing money, usually by institutions or high net worth individuals (HNWIs: people with a net worth over $1 million), is supposedly changing the investment landscape.
The overwhelming drivers of this trend are young people, financial advisors say. Millennials are values-driven, environmentally conscious and financially savvy, we are frequently told. And yet a host of recent studies show that millennial money does not always follow their mouths.
A survey by Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management (CGWM), a British wealth manager, found that, while 76% of U.K. HNWIs believe in the idea of ESG investing, just 12% sought out companies and funds that are “well governed” and have a “respectable” environmental and social reputation. An earlier survey by OppenheimerFunds threw doubt on the belief in millennials: Only 14% of U.K. millennial investors who cite an interest in sustainable investing actually invest in the area, the study found.
Nor are institutional investors very values driven, British fund manager Schroders found: Sustainable investments had little to no influence on the decision-making process of 32% of institutional investors.
Lastly, Swiss bank UBS found last year that while 65% of wealthy investors are motivated by sustainable values globally, only a minority (39%) hold sustainable investments in their portfolios.
All Talk, Little Action
It is not just the studies that show how much sustainable investing is being talked up. Wealth managers report a huge interest in sustainable choices among their clients. When it comes to actually investing, however, few follow through.
“We see that the younger generation talk about ESG a lot, but they don’t actually make their investments like that very often”, says Lotte Månsson, senior vice president of Denmark-based Nykredit Bank.
Even on the philanthropy side, support is nascent, says Joanna Walker, head of private clients at the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF): “What we’re seeing among the next generation is that they are increasingly active and very engaged with their values.
“But the way they’re engaging is through activism or protest or signing petitions. That’s not necessary being translated into financial support. That’s the challenge: How do you harness that support for organisations?”