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Ethical investing signs of 'greenwashing'

Green is good, right? As more people bear the consequences of climate change investor demand for sustainable options is growing. ESG investing is when a fund considers sustainability factors (including environmental, social, and governance) in their investment strategy. Globally, ESG assets are expected to exceed $US53 trillion by 2025 and represent more than a third of total assets under management. If you have any questions regarding ESG investing, please do not hesitate to contact us.

In Australia 89 per cent of the investment market are now claiming they invest responsibly. But the reality is only about 40 per cent of the market could be classified as responsibly invested and within that segment only 25 per cent of investment managers are practising a leading responsible approach, according to the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia (RIAA).

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is concerned about the potential for ‘greenwashing’. This is when a fund claims its product is more sustainable or ethical than it is. A fund may promote itself as avoiding investment in tobacco products, for example. But doesn’t publicise that it may invest in companies that earn up to 20 per cent of their revenue from tobacco products.

To do your best by the planet as well as your own financial future it pays to be aware of signs of greenwashing.

Check the investment product label

There are lots of ways these funds may be labelled. For example, sustainable, ethical, green, environmentally friendly, responsible, conscious or impact investing.  Does the definition they use fit with your understanding of the investment product?

Check the investment strategy

Funds can approach their investment strategy in different ways.

1. Negative screening.

The most common screens are fossil fuels and tobacco but what might be most important to you is a screen for animal cruelty and human rights abuses. So check the product disclosure statement (PDS), additional information guide, sustainability report, and website for any stated exceptions. If it uses revenue thresholds check whether it defines revenue and if the threshold is clear, when it applies and any exceptions.

2. Positive screening

It may invest in renewables, water and energy efficiency, education, and healthcare. Does it explain when an investment is included and is it clear what percentage of the underlying investments are covered by each screen? If the fund discloses underlying investments do these holdings match how the fund screens?

3. ESG integration

The most common approach is to consider ESG risks and opportunities at the analysis stage of the investment process. This won’t necessarily prevent a fund investing in a harmful product if the manager thinks the company represents good financial value.

4. ESG impact investing

If a manager adopts this approach check if the impact investing strategy is defined by the fund. Is it clear which sectors or themes it targets? Does the fund explain how it assesses the potential impact of each underlying investment? Is the manager using their shareholder clout to influence boards and management to achieve better ESG outcomes? This information should be on the fund’s website or in the PDS.