Seeking a healthy financial return and bringing about positive social change, long thought to be mutually exclusive, can be accomplished through socially responsible investing. But how do you do it? How do you vet companies to see if they actually promote environmental stewardship (and not just use empty jargon) while also provide strong returns?
Scroll down to learn more about socially responsible investing.
Some companies have a vested interest in the world getting worse. Oil companies top that list, although not for reasons you would expect.
As global investment moves away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy (especially solar), oil companies are turning to plastic production as the cornerstone of their financial future. But as governments are cracking down on plastic garbage that clogs landfills and large segments of the Pacific Ocean, even this approach looks unsure.
“Oil companies are saying, no problem, we’ll invest in petrochemicals,” said Paul Bjacek to Bloomberg. “But petrochemicals, after the circular economy happens to the maximum extent, is likely to be a low-growth market.”
Local bans on plastic products and stronger recycling programs could be driving this change. Whatever the reason, the proof is in the profit sheets. Exxon mobile reported in August 2019 that its second-quarter profit fell from $3.95 billion the previous year to $3.13 billion; total revenue fell six percent.
Petrochemicals were supposed to be the hedge for oil companies to use against the rise of electric cars and increasing fuel efficiency in conventional cars. However, investment in new waste recovery methods looks to replace virgin plastic with recycled resins, replacing 20 percent in the short term, over 30 percent by 2030 and nearly 60 percent by 2050, resulting in a sharp drop in demand for petrochemicals.
Investing isn't 100 percent about financial returns regardless of the ethics (or lack thereof) of the company being funded. More Investors are seeking out businesses, nonprofits, and funds for the purposes of generating a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. This is called impact investing, and you can start doing it right now, whether supporting a massive investment fund or a crowdsourced alternative energy project (we have a specific one in mind at the bottom of this post).
Impact investing has grown from an estimated $50 billion in 2009 to $500 billion today. While this figure only represents a slice of the $61 trillion that makes up the global equity market, impact investing has spread among such instruments as equity, debt, real assets, and loan guarantees.
Analysts noted that private equity funds are undergoing a massive shift of funds from fossil fuel energy to solar, wind, and other renewable energy assets. Industry insiders say that fund sponsors are interested due to a convergence of numerous trends.
First, the asset class has matured to the degree that the technology behind clean energy (in the form of wind turbines and solar panels) is a known quantity. Second, federal and state climate policies have mandated the decarbonization of energy at local, state, and national levels. Third, fund LPs are requiring increasing clean energy investments for the purpose of promoting sustainability initiatives.
That's the 10,000-foot view, but let's get practical. How do you get down to impact investing? A good place to start is with an alternative energy ETF. In this way, you can diversity across several companies through purchasing alternative energy exchange-traded funds.
Here are five ETFS that Investopedia ranks the highest by reason of market cap, potential stock growth. liquidity.
TAN follows the Mac Global Solar Energy Index, which tracks 23 stocksand keeps 90 percent of its investments in securities from the index.
PBW provides exposure to U.S. companies engaged in advacing cleaner energy and conservation. It follows the WilderHill Clean Energy Index and invests at least 90 percent of its assets in stocks from the index.
This ETF tracks the Nasdaq Clean Edge Green Energy Index, which includes 39 stocks in its portfolio.
This ETF tracks the Ardour Global Index; it focuses on companies in an area considered alternative energy.
The S&P Global Clean Energy Index is considered the benchmark of this ETF. It keeps a 90 percent concentration of assets from the index. The other 10 percent are futures, options, and swap contracts.
Impact Investing with Crowdfunding
Investing in large-scale portfolios aren't the only way to get involved with impact investing. Many online companies are now offering funding platforms for renewable energy projects and cleantech companies.
One of them is GridShare. You can browse offerings on the site and back projects through equity, debt, and donations.
The second is StartEngine. Established in 2016, the site facilitates investment in early-stage startup businesses, including renewable energy companies. It partners with small businesses, entrepreneurs, and others, enabling about 150 financings through the platform since its inception. It operates at a higher scale than Kickstarter or Indiegogo, allowing bigger businesses to get their liftoff.
An even better company to invest with impact investing is GoSun. You can now back it on StartEngine.
As of this writing in December 2019, over a quarter-million dollars has been raised from investors who now have an equity stake in the company.
With innovation at the core, in 2018 GoSun launched the first hybrid solar and electric oven through Kickstarter so customers can cook at night. In 2019, the company launched a solar-powered cooler on Indiegogo, that eliminates ice, thus freeing up space, keeping contents from being soaked and smashed.
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