This app lets you invest responsibly so you can save the planet and make money

Key Points
  • Impact investing, also known as socially responsible investing, is becoming more popular with younger people.
  • Swell, an impact investing platform, ensures its clients invest only in companies that align with the 17 sustainable development goals set by the United Nations.
Adelie penguins stand atop a block of melting ice on a rocky shoreline at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, in East Antarctica.
Pauline Askin | Reuters

If you're interested in saving the planet while also making a profit, this app may be a good option for you.

As impact investing, also known as socially responsible investing, becomes more popular, financial experts say millennials seem to be drawn to funds that support the humanitarian or environmental missions they believe in. And the easiest way to do that may be with the click of a button on a device they use daily — their smartphone.

Some "socially conscious" portfolios use a set of 17 sustainable development goals as defined by the United Nations. The goals, according to the U.N., "address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice."

Thanks to smartphones and social media, people now have information literally dropped into the palm of their hand. As a result, they are organizing more quickly and advocating for change, said Dave Fanger, CEO and founder of impact investing platform Swell. It's helping fuel a sense of purpose, he said, and makes people more proactive.

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A person may say, "I want to see a different world, and I can do something about it," Fanger added.

Why not bring that passion into finance?

Investing for impact isn't likely to diminish your financial returns, as CNBC has previously reported. Last year, sustainable funds outperformed a number of market benchmarks and most were in the top half of their categories, according to data from Morningstar.

And financial services firms such as Swell, Betterment and Acorns allow people to invest in some socially responsible companies.

At Swell, the hope is to pique people's interest at a young age, to get them thinking about moving money from a low-interest savings account into a market portfolio.

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"As we look at Gen Y or Gen Z, too much is being put in cash," Fanger said. Young people can be in the market for the long term, which adds to their value.

"If socially responsible investing helps you get in the stock market, then that's a positive development," he said.

However, people getting into impact investing shouldn't expect to make money overnight. Focusing on long-term investing is more appropriate, according to Fanger, as sustainable companies position themselves for growth.

"These companies will solve many of these world challenges, so their financial return should show that," he said.

How Swell works

Swell, which launched in May 2017 for desktops, recently released its mobile app and now has about 14,000 clients investing in the seven portfolios it offers. The portfolios include disease eradication, zero waste, clean water, healthy living, green tech and renewable energy, along with its Impact 400 portfolio, which includes the most impactful companies across all sectors of the stock market.

Swell lets users look through each portfolio and exclude specific companies if they so choose, in the event they disagree with that particular firm's operations.

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"We found that everyone has their own definition and how their values align," Fanger said. "We want to make sure that whatever a company puts out on site, we can see how it aligns."

Users don't have to do all of the work themselves. Swell looks at not only each company's operations and products, but also routinely monitors the news for any mention, in case any issues arise.

Swell charges a 0.75 percent annual fee and requires a $50 minimum account value.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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Impact Investing

Here's how investors can save the planet and still make some money

Key Points
  • Evidence of the increasing effects of climate change is growing. And the bankruptcy of PG&E might be just the first sign of what coming changes could mean for businesses.
  • The good news for investors is that there are an increasing number of ways to invest your money while keeping your climate concerns in mind.
  • In addition to putting your money behind responsible companies and funds, there are ways you can make your voice heard by corporate decision makers.