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7 costly myths of sustainable investing

Morningstar  |  12 Oct 2018Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  
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To help make sense of the worldwide trend towards sustainable investing, Morningstar has introduced the industry's first global standard for portfolio sustainability based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors.

The Morningstar Sustainability Rating for funds is an essential tool for those who want to make sustainability part of how they choose the funds they invest in.

Four possible approaches to incorporating ESG are ESG aware, ESG incorporation, ESG outcome and ESG impact.

In ESG-aware strategies, asset managers make ESG data and analytics available and it’s up to the managers how they use the information. With ESG incorporation, ESG is just one set of criteria among many; while ESG outcome results in a portfolio with better sustainability profiles. An ESG-impact strategy is similar to ESG outcome but also attempts to deliver a positive societal or environmental impact.

Whichever strategy your asset manager – or yourself – uses, be aware of believing any of these seven myths that could impact your investment returns.

Myth #1 Ratings are based solely on a company’s environmental records

A fund's green credentials are just one factor taken into account. What’s important to us is how the companies in a fund are also handling social and governance challenges compared to other companies in the same industry.

Social factors may include a labour standards, gender and diversity polices, community and engagement, and treatment of employees.

Governance factors include political contributions, lobbying activities and executive compensation.

Myth #2 Sustainable investing is a vague concept

The framework developed by Morningstar’s analysts and research leaders applies a rigorous objectivity to the process which means that funds which indulge in "greenwashing" are excluded.

This framework examines accepted ESG factors together with Morningstar’s comprehensive data on the investments that funds hold in their portfolios plus company-level ESG information from Sustainalytics.

Myth #3 Sustainable investors sacrifice higher returns

By looking at the sustainability of a fund's holding it's possible to identify funds that may offer a competitive advantage over the long run. While at the same time avoiding those with holdings that may present greater risks as a result of unsustainable choices. This means it is possible to invest in a way that reflects your values while simultaneously finding long-term value in the market.

Examples of ESG issues

Exhibit 1. Examples of ESG issues

Myth #4 Sustainable investing restricts your investment options

By offering Sustainability Ratings for more than 20,000 funds globally for investors who want to consider sustainable strategies within their portfolios, there is now an expanded universe of funds to choose from.

Myth #5 Serious investors avoid sustainable investing

Globally, there is more than US$21.4 trillion in assets invested sustainably and 71 per cent of individual investors are interested in the topic. The CFA Institute, the premier global association for investment management professionals, says evaluating ESG issues "will likely lead to more complete investment analyses and better informed investment decisions".

Women, millennials, and generation Z investors (born from the mid-1990s to early 2000s) all express strong interest in sustainable investing, indicating that sustainable investing has the potential to grow into a major component of the market.

ESG examples

Exhibit 2. Different interests. A high percentage of women and millennials say they are interested in ESG investing. Financial advisers aren't responding yet

Myth #6 A fund needs an explicit sustainability strategy in place

All funds are measured the same way, that is, based on the holdings in their portfolios not whether the fund labels itself sustainable. This means that many funds that do not market themselves as sustainable may also receive a high Morningstar Sustainability Rating.

Myth #7 Fund companies pay for a sustainability rating

Morningstar does not accept payments from asset-management firms to rate their funds. Like our other ratings for funds and stocks, this rating is 100 per cent independent. This means you can count on us to report on what a fund actually does, not what the fund company says it does.

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Roger Balch is a contributor for Morningstar Australia.

© 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither Morningstar, its affiliates, nor the content providers guarantee the data or content contained herein to be accurate, complete or timely nor will they have any liability for its use or distribution. This information is to be used for personal, non-commercial purposes only. No reproduction is permitted without the prior written consent of Morningstar. Any general advice or 'class service' have been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892), or its Authorised Representatives, and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. Please refer to our Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information at www.morningstar.com.au/s/fsg.pdf. Our publications, ratings and products should be viewed as an additional investment resource, not as your sole source of information. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product's future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a licensed financial adviser. Some material is copyright and published under licence from ASX Operations Pty Ltd ACN 004 523 782 ("ASXO"). The article is current as at date of publication.

© 2020 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither Morningstar, its affiliates, nor the content providers guarantee the data or content contained herein to be accurate, complete or timely nor will they have any liability for its use or distribution. This information is to be used for personal, non-commercial purposes only. No reproduction is permitted without the prior written consent of Morningstar. Any general advice or 'class service' have been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892), or its Authorised Representatives, and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. Please refer to our Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information at www.morningstar.com.au/s/fsg.pdf. Our publications, ratings and products should be viewed as an additional investment resource, not as your sole source of information. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product's future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a licensed financial adviser. Some material is copyright and published under licence from ASX Operations Pty Ltd ACN 004 523 782. The article is current as at date of publication.

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