Conscious Capital: Exploring the Landscape of Ethical Investing

By Yashovardhan Sharma

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Are you keen on advocating for positive corporate behavior through your investment choices? You might be inherently inclined towards ethical investing. Ethical investing involves integrating personal values and principles into the investment decision-making process.


Definition of Ethical Investing

Ethical investing is an investment strategy wherein investors select investments based on a set of ethical guidelines, encompassing religious or social values alongside financial returns. The objective of ethical investing is to support industries that contribute to a positive impact, such as sustainable energy, often aligning with ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing principles. It's important to recognize that the concept of "ethical" is subjective, varying from person to person. What you consider ethical might differ from someone else. Therefore, delving into the specifics of ethical investments is crucial to ensure alignment with the impact you wish to make. These investments can be done par value and no par value stocks also.


Ethical Investing vs. SRI vs. ESG: What Sets Them Apart?


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Not much. Ethical investing encompasses various forms, including sustainable investing, socially responsible investing (SRI), green investing, impact investing, and ESG investing. These terms generally converge on the common goal of effecting positive change by purposefully and thoughtfully investing funds. However, the methods employed to achieve this goal can differ. Some approaches focus solely on including investments with positive impacts, while others involve excluding those with negative impacts. Some strategies incorporate both inclusive and exclusive methods. The interchangeable use of these terms highlights the lack of consensus on which strategies are exclusively inclusive, exclusively exclusive, or both.

Understanding the methodology behind a fund or advisor's investment selection is crucial. For instance, a portfolio labeled as "sustainable" or "socially responsible" may only exclude investments in tobacco and firearm companies without necessarily featuring any genuinely "sustainable" assets. It's noteworthy that various types of ethical investing, regardless of nomenclature, often utilize ESG factors and environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance to assess specific investments along an ethical spectrum. For instance, if you're crafting a socially just impact portfolio, you may seek investments with a high ESG score in the social category.


Generating profits through ethical investing

While no investment comes with a guarantee, the performance of ethical funds has demonstrated similarity to that of traditional funds, with some studies suggesting superior performance. Data indicates that sustainable funds surpassed their conventional counterparts in 2019, with 66% concluding the year with returns ranking in the top half of their categories.  The underlying concept is that companies prioritizing employee well-being and environmental responsibility may exhibit better management practices and reduced susceptibility to scandals, potentially leading to tangible benefits. For instance, companies addressing Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) concerns might steer clear of fines and legal issues related to matters like mishandling toxic waste, allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and fraudulent transactions due to proactive policies. They can also indulge in stock buybacks when needed.

Moreover, there is evidence suggesting that ethical funds might present lower levels of market risk compared to traditional funds, even during volatile market conditions such as the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data reveals that 24 out of 26 ESG index funds outperformed comparable conventional funds in several quarters of some financial years.


Determine your level of involvement

If you prefer a hands-on approach, you can build your own portfolio by selecting specific investments and monitoring them over time. Some brokerages offer tools to help you identify ethical investments. If you choose this route, proceed to the next step.  This task can be quite demanding, and if you're seeking assistance, you're not alone! Many individuals likely aspire to make socially responsible investments, but the interpretation of "when possible" varies from person to person. Researching a company's true commitment or understanding its ethical priorities requires significant time and effort, which you may not be willing to dedicate to stock analysis. This is where robo-advisors come into play: they utilize algorithms to construct and manage investment portfolios tailored to your risk tolerance, goals, and, in some instances, ethical preferences.

Robo-advisors often come with the added advantage of being more cost effective than traditional advisors, and some even provide socially responsible portfolio options with good market capitalization. However, it's essential to note that most robo-advisors may not allow you to include specific investments in your portfolio. If investing in a particular company is important to you, it's crucial to scrutinize a potential robo-advisor's methodology to ensure it incorporates both inclusionary and exclusionary filters. Here are some robo-advisors offering socially responsible portfolios:


  • Betterment: Presents three impact portfoliosBroad Impact, Climate Impact, and Social Impact.
  • Wealthfront: Offers a pre-made socially responsible portfolio and allows customization with socially responsible ETFs.
  • Merrill Edge Guided Investing: Allows clients to invest in an ESG portfolio and request restrictions on certain ETFs.
  • Ellevest: Ellevest Impact Portfolios invest in up to 53% ESG and impact funds.
  • Ally Invest: Provides a Socially Responsible Managed Portfolio option.
  • Marcus Invest: Goldman Sachs Impact portfolio includes ESG ETFs.
  • Acorns: Sustainable Portfolios consist of sustainable ETFs designed to perform on par with Acorns' Core portfolios.
  • E-Trade: Grants access to a portfolio that includes an ESG ETF.
  • Stash: Categorizes ETFs supporting various social and environmental causes.
  • Axos Invest: Offers investments in themed areas such as clean energy and companies with greater female leadership representation.


Understand Your Ethical Principles

Take the time to define what qualifies as an ethical investment for you. For instance, does an oil company align with your ethical standards if it implements robust environmental initiatives, or do you prefer to exclude investments in the oil industry altogether? Clearly identifying the industries you wish to support and those you want to avoid will simplify the process of including or excluding specific investments.


Identify Ethical Investment Opportunities

Once you've established a brokerage account and clarified your priorities, you can commence building a portfolio that resonates with your moral values. Consulting reviews from independent research firms can offer insights into how well a company fares in terms of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors, aiding you in deciding whether to include it in your investment portfolio. For a sustainable portfolio, two types of investments to consider are individual stocks and mutual funds. Here's what you should know about each:

Individual Stocks: While it's generally advisable to limit the portion of your portfolio dedicated to individual stocks, you might choose to include a company you anticipate will perform well over time. Sustainability reports from some companies can provide details about their green energy or cultural initiatives, as well as their environmental impact. Additionally, assessing employee ratings of the work culture through independent platforms is recommended.


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Mutual Funds: These offer a convenient way to diversify your portfolio, and there's a growing selection of ethical funds available. Mutual funds follow criteria set by the fund manager, which may include ESG factors. If your broker provides a screening tool, you can explore different funds and stocks to find those that best complement your ethical portfolio.

To delve into the specifics of a particular fund, review its prospectus, usually available on your online broker's website. Pay attention to two key aspects: the fund's holdings (a list of all the companies it invests in) and its expense ratio. Expense ratios are annual fees expressed as a percentage of your investment. While some funds labeled with "ESG" or "sustainable" may have higher expense ratios, there are also ethical funds that are more cost-effective than their traditional counterparts.



Ethical investing represents a powerful and conscientious approach to wealth accumulation that goes beyond mere financial gains. As we navigate the complex landscape of investment choices, the significance of aligning our portfolios with our values cannot be overstated. Throughout this exploration of ethical investing, we've delved into the diverse facets of this approach, from understanding the nuances of ethical considerations to identifying investment opportunities that resonate with our moral compass.