How investors can save the world, one dollar at a time

  • Sustainable investing allows you to invest with your conscience: You embrace companies that promote social and environmental good, while avoiding businesses that don’t share the same ethics.
  • About 1 in 3 investors have considered making socially responsible investments, according to TD Ameritrade.

Whether you're looking to avoid companies that have questionable environmental practices or to reward those that prioritize gender equality, there's an investment strategy for that.

Say hello to sustainable investing, which you may also know as socially responsible investing, a way for individuals to make a social impact with their dollars.

This investment strategy involves promoting companies that prioritize human rights and environmental stewardship and passing over those with an ethos that's incompatible with those priorities.

"This is a style of investing that excludes certain companies that might not be good for our society," said Douglas A. Boneparth, a certified financial planner and president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York.

"They might not have proper governance, and they might not be good for our environment," he said.

Indeed, 1 in 3 investors have considered making socially responsible investments, according to a survey from TD Ameritrade. The firm took an online poll in March of 1,056 adults with at least $250,000 in investable assets.

Here's what you should know.

Defining sustainable

Solar Farm and wind turbines in Palm Springs CA.
Connie J. Spinardi | Getty Images

"Some of the pros of SRI investing is that you actually can have an impact on the way we're shaping the world," said Boneparth.

"Companies that treat government or society or the environment in a negative way, you now have a say about where your money goes," he said.

Globally, there is an estimated $23 trillion in assets under management in portfolios that use different approaches to sustainable investing, according to Morningstar.

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Fund managers overseeing socially conscious funds do more than just exclude "sin stocks," such as tobacco, alcohol and gambling.

For instance, the Pax Ellevate Global Women's Leadership Fund (PXWIX) invests in companies with a track record of advancing women's leadership, including representation on their boards and in executive management.

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Meanwhile, the Vanguard FTSE Social Index Fund (VFTSX) follows the FTSE4Good U.S. Select index, which screens out companies that partake in weapons, nuclear power and adult entertainment.

"When investing in a socially responsible way, there are many different flavors," said Boneparth. "You'll want to ask yourself what kind of investor are you when you think about SRI investing."

Choosing the right approach

Be cognizant of fees.

The universe of SRI funds has grown enough that there are index-based — and generally cheaper — options available. For instance, the iShares MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target ETF (CRBN) carries an expense ratio of 0.20 percent.

About 30 percent of these sustainable funds are passively managed, according to Morningstar.

Be sure to do the appropriate research and consult with your financial advisor before committing to a sustainable investing strategy.

"Seek out a qualified investment professional or a certified financial planner who is knowledgeable," Boneparth said. "They can share with you how this might fit your overall situation."