The Majority of ESG Funds Are Not Sustainable. Here’s Why.

So, you buy an ESG mutual fund or ETF and you’re excited that you’re going to change the world with your investments. But then you get your annual report and start browsing through the holdings and realize that your ESG fund is simply less bad than your traditional index fund, and reality sets in. This isn’t what you thought it was.

This happens all the time because there is no regulation when it comes to labeling funds as “ESG” or “sustainable” or anything else in the responsible investing realm. It’s the wild, wild West, buyer beware, every red flag you can think of.

Ultimately, the disconnect happens because there isn’t a universal understanding of what ESG (environmental, social, governance) or sustainable investing is. We think that it’s all the same and we want to jump in. And the people marketing ESG funds assume that you’re not going to take the time to look under the hood to see what you really own, and they take advantage of that. But it truly does a disservice to those of us who really care about making a difference in the world and aligning our investments with our values.

Too often these ESG index funds rely on traditional indexes as a base from which to invest. The problem with this is that the traditional indexes are rooted in the old economy, and you can’t invest for the new economy by looking in the rearview mirror.

The Difference Between ESG and a Sustainable Portfolio

ESG is a way of analyzing companies based on the three metrics it’s named for. It is not the be-all, end-all of the investment research process – it’s just a piece and should be considered as one component of comprehensive investment research. However, many index-based fund managers put together portfolios using only ESG metrics and very little common sense. They eliminate the step where a person asks, “Does it make sense that ExxonMobil is in a sustainable or responsible portfolio?”

By contrast, a truly sustainable portfolio is focused on a positive, solutions-based approach. What…

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