Sustainable, responsible, and impact investing (SRI) is an investment discipline that considers environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) criteria, along with financial analysis, to generate long-term competitive financial returns and positive societal impact.

Many SRI investors are looking to align their money with their values. For these investors, an important aspect of SRI is often excluding names of companies whose business practices conflict with their values. For example, many SRI investors will not invest in companies with significant involvement in producing, marketing, or distributing firearms, alcohol, tobacco, gaming, nuclear power, pornography, or military weapons systems.

In addition to exclusion criteria, SRI investors also look for positive ESG factors to identify companies best positioned to deliver strong long-term financial performance. There is a general belief that companies with better performance on ESG issues, such as strong workplace practices, product safety, and environmental protection, will have better financial performance. This “ESG integration” approach is often an integral part of the fundamental research process at many firms that pursue SRI. Multiple studies have shown that there is no long-term performance cost to SRI. In fact, some studies have shown that companies with strong ESG profiles have better long-term management and lower risk profiles and are positioned to outperform their peers.

Using your position as an owner in a company to push the company to improve social and environmental performance is another key component of impact investing for many SRI managers. There are a number of tools available for shareholder advocacy, including phone calls, written correspondence, in-person meetings, and site visits. Communications can range from asking simple questions to clarify your understanding of company policies to engaging in a long term, in-depth conversation with multiple stakeholders.

In today’s U.S. economy, SRI assets represent over USD $8 trillion. What could SRI mean to you?

About the Author

Susan Baker is a Vice President and member of Trillium Asset Management’s Shareholder Advocacy team, where she leads and participates in numerous advocacy initiatives on a wide range of issues including sustainable sourcing, environmental health, labor and human rights, and board diversity. She earned a B.A. from Middlebury College, and Ed.M. from Harvard University and currently serves on the Boards of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the Thirty Percent Coalition and is Treasurer for Pesticide Action Network, North America.