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Investing With a Purpose: Understanding Socially Responsible Investing

By Diane Amato • Published November 30, 2021 • 4 Min Read

Socially Responsible Investing enables investors to use their money to seek out positive outcomes – as well as positive returns.

Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) has boomed in recent years as investors have discovered they can put their money behind investments that contribute to important social and environmental issues. According to SIMFUND Canada, Canadians invested more than $3.2 billion in Canadian-based environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds in 2020, while total net assets in these funds exceeded $22 billion – a 37% increase over the year before.

At the same time, studies have found that companies in SRI funds have better environmental, social and governance practices that may make them more sustainable long-term and therefore healthier and less volatile financially. A company’s ethical practices have also been shown to reduce exposure to scandals, disasters and lawsuits.

All of these factors can positively affect share prices and impact returns for investors.

Understanding SRI

When it comes to responsible investing, there are a number of terms and acronyms investors may come across – such as Impact Investing, ESG and SRI, which are sometimes used interchangeably. Understanding the difference between them can help new investors navigate this landscape.

For example, a company may be considered a responsible investment if it has a diverse board of directors – a company that manufactures weapons, on the other hand, would not be. ESG investing, meanwhile, considers how Environmental, Social and Governance factors affect the performance of a company, both positively and negatively (and therefore an investor’s returns).

Impact investing is a way to invest your money to create measurable positive outcomes. While SRI and impact investing both aim to bring about social change while delivering a financial return, impact investing requires that the change be more timely and impactful. Impact investing often involves private funds from institutional investors, while SRI investing involves investments available to all retail investors.

There’s more than one way to be a socially responsible investor

SRI investments aren’t simply selected by typical performance metrics such as earnings, growth and profit margins, but also by whether a company’s business practices align to the investor’s values – or not. To determine which companies to select for a fund, a fund manager has two methods to use: positive and negative screening.

Positive screening is a process that identifies companies making positive social or environmental contributions. Those with better ESG practices compared to their competitors are more likely to be included in the fund. While in many cases positive screening techniques highlight organizations that are actively furthering environmentally sustainable or positive social practices, positive screening is not limited to investing in companies within environmentally or socially focused industries. Companies with a stronger commitment to ESG practices in any industry may be considered as socially responsible investments.

Negative screening is one of the most basic methods of separating socially responsible investments from those that are likely to have a negative effect on society. It is one of the most widely used processes of weeding out companies that do not align with an investor’s values, such as those in industries like alcohol, tobacco or gambling, organizations associated with human rights violations or environmental damage or companies that do not meet diversity standards.

Both methods can lead to socially responsible investing. While negative screening prevents investors from supporting practices they find undesirable, positive screening purposefully supports those companies that are actively doing good and supporting investor values.

Investing in line with your values can pay off

For Canadians looking to invest in funds that can make a positive difference in the world, the future is bright. New funds continue to be introduced as interest grows in SRI investing. Companies with strong ethical and environmental practices may perform better in the long-term because they’re more sustainable. With a win-win situation like this, it’s no wonder Canadians are increasingly adopting socially responsible investment practices.

Interested in investing in an SRI fund? Speak with your RBC Insurance Advisor and learn about the new funds we’re introducing to support your goals and values.

Call us at 1-888-512-3059.


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This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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