What is Responsible Investment?
There are a range of terms used today to describe the products or services available for people who want to invest in line with their values.
Many of these terms will be familiar such as ethical investment, green investment, sustainable investment, socially responsible investment, clean technology investment or simply “SRI”.
RIAA uses responsible investment as the overaching term to refer to the “family” of products and services which take environmental, social ethical or governance issues into account.
Steve Blizard of Roxburgh Securities is a financial member of the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia.
The beginning of socially responsible investing could be attributed to many people and many places. Many believe social investing began with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). In 1758, the Quaker Philadelphia Yearly Meeting prohibited members from participating in the slave trade–buying or selling humans.
Wesley's sermon "The Use of Money" outlined his basic tenets of social investing – i.e. not to harm your neighbor through your business practices and to avoid industries like tanning and chemical production, which can harm the health of workers. Some of the most well known applications of socially responsible investing were religiously motivated. “Investors would avoid “sinful” companies. These companies dealt with or were associated with products, such as, guns, liquor, and tobacco. This type of investment screening became known as white investing.”
Screened portfolios, with $2.15 trillion in assets, represent the largest amount of assets in social responsible investing [SRI]. Community investing and shareholder advocacy contribute additional assets, resulting in a total of $2.18 trillion in professionally managed assets for all SRI.
Research estimates by financial consultancy Celent predict that the SRI market in the US will reach $3 trillion by 2011. The European SRI market grew from €1 trillion in 2005 to €1.6 trillion in 2007.
What does this mean for me?
It is important when making your choice about a responsible investment product or service that you understand how it takes environmental, social, ethical or governance issues into consideration and that it meets your financial needs.
You may wish to avoid certain industries, such as tobacco or alcohol, or you may wish to seek out ones that you are keen to support, such as clean technology. Altenatively, you may be happy to have your funds invested across all industries as long as your money is supporting the companies that are leading in terms of sustainable business practices.
Roxburgh Securities can help you learn more about the different approaches fund managers and super funds can take to create their responsible investment products.
Different approaches to Responsible Investment
There are a number of different investment methods, or guidelines, that super funds use when evaluating the environmental, social, ethical and governance practices of the organisations in which they want to invest.
Best of sector.
Every fund is different, and so understanding these methods will help you to determine the style that best matches your own level of concern about environmental, social and ethical issues.
Some funds simply avoid investing in certain industries, such as tobacco, armaments, alcohol or gambling but will invest in everything else.
Some funds actively seek out companies which have a positive impact on society and the environment. This may be a company solely devoted to renewable energy or healthcare, but on the other hand it might be a mainstream energy company with above average environmental, ethical and social practices.
Sustainability analysis is the quantitative and qualitative study of all companies on the stock market to determine their environmental, social, ethical and governance performance. This method is often combined with positive and / or negative screening but can be used on its own.
Research techniques for sustainability analysis are many and varied and can include:
- incidents reported in the media
- research reports provided by stockbrokers
- specialist research based on corporate conduct provided by NGOs
- one on one interviews with the company
- questionnaires filled out by the company
- analysis of the company's sustainability report
- rating companies against international benchmarks such as the UN Declaration on Human Rights
Best of sector
Best of sector funds will invest in all industries (with no negative screening) but choose only those companies which are considered to be the most socially and environmentally responsible out of their peer group. The belief here is that allindustries must strive toward sustainability, including those industries which some people may consider to be harmful. Sustainability investing chooses leaders in each sector based on their progress in taking their industry to a more sustainabile future. This approach is based on the premise that companies with strong sustainability credentials are generally better managed companies, and therefore more profitable in the long term.
Some funds will actively engage with the companies in which they invest to seek improvement on environmental, social and governance issues if their research indicates a lacking in these areas.
Sometimes these funds will collaborate on common issues with other funds from Australasia or across the world, which can increase the likelihood of a positive outcome from the engagement process. For example, several large superannuation funds across the world have targeted US car manufacturers which are purchasing their steel from Brazilian mining companies known to be using bonded labour.
Voting rights and resolutions
Voting rights are a powerful mechanism to achieve improved corporate social responsibility. Funds which are active owners will exercise their right to vote and their right to raise resolutions in order to achieve better management outcomes from the companies they invest in. Even environmental and social resolutions which attract less than majority support can still capture the attention of a corporate board and affect change.
For example, it was an environmental resolution raised by a group of nuns and gaining support of 24% which inspired GE to undertake its huge environmental initiative called EcoImagination. In the United States resolutions concerning environmental and social issues are increasing every year, and that trend is moving across the world.
Most commonly, a fund will combine elements of the different approaches to create their own particular style, so it's worth taking the time to identify with a fund's approach. How proactive you want your fund to be is up to you.
If you do not already have a financial adviser, Roxburgh Securities can show how you can benefit from the value of advice. Phone 08 9379 3555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for an obligation free appointment.
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