Doing Good and Doing Well

Northern Trust: The market for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)-oriented investment products has grown dramatically in recent years. Globally, ESG assets increased from US$5 trillion in 2007 to more than US$32 trillion in 2012 – equal to roughly 25% of all the world’s financial holdings1. And US-domiciled assets engaged in sustainable and responsible investment practices totaled more than USD$3.3 trillion in 2012, roughly 11% of all funds under management. Although the strict definition of an ESG-oriented product is subject to debate, it is clear there is strong upward asset momentum in this category. Investors have various motivations for incorporating ESG considerations into their portfolios. Some investors need to meet mandated environmental or social goals, others do it for reputational or political reasons, and still others may act on a belief that strong ESG companies will outperform over a long time horizon. As investors consider incorporating ESG considerations into their portfolios, a number of questions arise: How will an ESG orientation affect the performance of the portfolio? Will incorporating ESG criteria result in an unintended bias to specific countries or sectors? How can we best structure an ESG-oriented portfolio to deliver strong performance?

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