Knowledge Centre

Do ESG & Sustainable Investment Funds Perform Well

Yes.  The evidence is increasingly clear.  When managed properly and strategically ESG and Sustainable Investment Funds perform well in the short term.  According to Nasdaq, some studies suggest that companies with high ESG scores tend to outperform the market

Businesses that delivery strong ESG and Sustainability Impact and communicate it well often have reduced risks, improved market access and other intangible assets that affect long-term performance.   Read more

What are sustainable investment funds?

Sustainable investment funds, also known as ESG Funds,  socially responsible investment (SRI) funds, ethical funds, or impact funds, are investment vehicles that seek to generate financial returns while also considering environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors. The primary goal of sustainable investment funds is to achieve financial growth concurrent with promoting positive social and environmental outcomes.

The growth in funds of this type has been steadily increasing with some estimates now suggesting the could represent up to 35% of funds under management

What are the key characteristics of sustainable investment funds?

Environmental Considerations: Sustainable investment funds focus on investing in companies that have environmentally friendly practices, promote renewable energy, reduce carbon emissions, prioritize conservation efforts and are generally efficient in their use of natural resources.  Some funds avoid petroleum companies and other sectors with high GHG footprints.

Social Considerations: These funds also consider social aspects such as human rights, labor practices, diversity and inclusion, community engagement, and fair wages. They often avoid investing in companies involved in controversial activities like arms manufacturing or tobacco production.

Governance Considerations: Governance factors include evaluating the transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct of a company’s management. Sustainable investment funds typically favor companies with strong corporate governance practices and avoid those with a history of unethical behavior.

Impact Investing: Some sustainable funds specifically target investments with measurable positive societal or environmental impacts, aiming to drive change through capital allocation. These can include investments in affordable housing, clean energy projects, or education initiatives.

Screening and Selection: Sustainable investment funds use various screening methodologies to identify suitable investments. This can involve negative screening (excluding companies with harmful practices), positive screening (favoring companies with positive ESG attributes), or a combination of both.

Sustainable investment funds allow investors to align their investments with their values and contribute to a more sustainable and responsible global economy. The specific strategies and criteria for sustainable investment can vary among different funds and investment managers.

What is the difference between sustainable investment funds and traditional funds

The main differences between sustainable investment funds and traditional funds lie in their investment approach, focus, and goals:

Investment Approach:

  • Sustainable Investment Funds: These funds prioritize environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in their investment decisions. They actively seek companies that exhibit responsible business practices and contribute to positive societal and environmental impacts.
  • Traditional Funds: Traditional funds primarily focus on financial returns and may not explicitly consider ESG factors in their investment decisions. Their goal is to maximize returns for investors based on traditional financial metrics.

Investment Focus:

  • Sustainable Investment Funds: These funds focus on investing in companies that are environmentally friendly, socially responsible, and have strong corporate governance practices. They often avoid investing in industries with negative social or environmental impacts.
  • Traditional Funds: Traditional funds invest across a broad spectrum of industries and sectors, aiming to achieve maximum financial returns within the defined investment mandate. They may invest in industries that may not align with sustainability goals.

Risk and Return Considerations:

  • Sustainable Investment Funds: While aiming for financial returns, sustainable investment funds may consider long-term risks related to environmental and social issues, potentially leading to a more holistic risk assessment. Their performance may be influenced by the ESG performance of the companies in their portfolio.
  • Traditional Funds: Traditional funds focus primarily on assessing financial risks and returns based on traditional financial analysis and market dynamics.

Investor Values and Preferences:

  • Sustainable Investment Funds: These funds attract investors who want to align their investments with their values and support companies that operate ethically and sustainably. Investors in sustainable funds are often concerned about societal and environmental impact alongside financial returns.
  • Traditional Funds: Investors in traditional funds are primarily seeking financial gains and are less focused on the ethical or sustainability aspects of their investments.

Screening and Due Diligence:

  • Sustainable Investment Funds: Sustainable funds employ specific ESG screening methodologies to select investments, often excluding companies that do not meet certain sustainability criteria.
  • Traditional Funds: Traditional funds generally use financial metrics and historical performance as the primary criteria for investment selection.

Stakeholder Engagement:

  • Sustainable Investment Funds: Sustainable funds may engage with companies they invest in to encourage better ESG practices, transparency, and accountability. They often participate in shareholder activism and advocate for positive changes.
  • Traditional Funds: While engagement with companies is not uncommon, traditional funds typically focus more on financial performance discussions and shareholder value.

Overall, sustainable investment funds are distinctive in their approach, incorporating broader factors beyond financial returns to align with investors’ ethical and sustainability preferences. Traditional funds, on the other hand, primarily focus on achieving maximum financial returns within their defined investment parameters.

Factors that contribute to the performance of sustainable investment funds

The performance of sustainable investment funds is influenced by thorough integration and analysis of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors. Effective risk management, rigorous investment selection based on positive ESG criteria, and active engagement with portfolio companies for improved practices play crucial roles.

Long-term focus, investment in innovative sustainable technologies, and transparency in reporting are vital for performance. Aligning with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) principles, creating stakeholder value, adapting to regulatory changes, and responding to market demand for sustainable options also contribute to a fund’s success.

Performance of sustainable funds vs traditional funds

The performance of sustainable funds in comparison to traditional funds is a topic of growing interest and scrutiny. Over recent years, sustainable funds have demonstrated competitive financial performance while incorporating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into their investment strategies.

Numerous studies and analyses have shown that sustainable funds can often achieve comparable or even superior returns to traditional funds. This is attributed to several factors, including the increasing recognition of ESG factors as material to financial performance, efficient risk management through ESG integration, and the positive market response to companies embracing sustainable practices.

Investors are increasingly acknowledging that sustainable investments not only align with their values and societal goals but also can yield sound financial returns, making sustainable funds an attractive option in the investment landscape. However, it’s important to note that performance can vary based on investment strategies, market conditions, and the specific ESG criteria incorporated by each fund.

As the field of sustainable finance continues to evolve, ongoing research and monitoring of performance will be vital for a comprehensive understanding of the long-term impact and viability of sustainable funds.

Challenges faced by sustainable investment funds

Sustainable investment funds encounter significant challenges related to greenwashing and the lack of standardization in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) metrics. These challenges hinder the growth and effectiveness of sustainable investing by undermining trust, credibility, and accurate assessment of sustainability performance.


Greenwashing is a significant challenge faced by sustainable investment funds in today’s financial landscape. It involves misleading or exaggerated claims regarding the environmental and social impact of an investment product or strategy.

Many funds and companies market themselves as environmentally or socially responsible, but their actual practices and investments may not align with these claims. This misleading information can misguide investors who are genuinely seeking to support sustainable initiatives.

The challenge lies in distinguishing genuine, impactful sustainable investments from those that merely seek to capitalize on the growing interest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing.

Lack of Standardization in ESG Metrics

Another pressing challenge in the realm of sustainable investment funds is the lack of standardized and universally accepted metrics for evaluating ESG factors. ESG metrics vary significantly among different organizations, making it challenging for investors to compare and assess the true sustainability performance of various funds.

The absence of a standardized framework hinders accurate measurement and comparison of ESG criteria, which is crucial for investors to make informed decisions. This lack of consistency complicates the assessment of the actual impact of investments on environmental and social factors, impeding the growth and efficacy of sustainable investing.

Standardization efforts are essential to provide investors with reliable, comparable data for evaluating the sustainability of their investment choices.

The future of sustainable investment

Growth Potential of Sustainable Investment Funds

The future of sustainable investment holds immense growth potential, fueled by the heightened awareness of environmental and social challenges. Sustainable investment funds are projected to play a pivotal role in this transformation, experiencing significant growth in assets under management. Investors are increasingly recognizing the positive correlation between sustainable practices and long-term financial performance.

As governments worldwide implement more stringent environmental regulations and societies demand greater corporate responsibility, sustainable investment funds are poised to attract substantial capital inflows.

Additionally, advancements in technology and data analytics are enhancing the ability to assess and report on the impact of sustainable investments, further bolstering investor confidence and accelerating the growth trajectory of these funds.

Role of Investors in Promoting Sustainability

Investors are key players in driving sustainability through their investment choices and active engagement with companies. Their role extends beyond merely seeking financial returns; investors now actively promote and demand sustainable practices.

Shareholder engagement, proxy voting, and direct dialogues with companies are becoming effective tools for investors to advocate for better ESG practices. By incorporating sustainability criteria into their investment decisions, investors are exerting pressure on companies to improve their sustainability performance.

As investors increasingly prioritize ethical and sustainable investments, companies are incentivized to adopt more responsible business practices, fostering a shift towards a more sustainable and socially conscious global economy. Ultimately, investors wield significant influence in shaping corporate behavior and fostering a sustainable future.

Conclusion: Do sustainable funds perform well?

In conclusion, the performance of sustainable funds is increasingly showcasing promising outcomes. Emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the financial landscape, sustainable funds have demonstrated competitive returns, often on par with or surpassing traditional investment options.

As awareness and understanding of the positive correlation between sustainability and financial performance continue to grow, investors are not only aligning their investments with their values but also benefiting from sound financial gains. The evidence suggests that sustainable investing is not merely a trend but a prudent approach with potential for long-term success, showcasing the potential for sustainable funds to perform well and leave a positive mark on both portfolios and the planet.

However, it’s essential to acknowledge that performance can vary based on factors like investment strategies, market conditions, and the integration of specific ESG criteria, underscoring the importance of thorough research and careful consideration in sustainable investment decisions.

If past is prologue then we can expect continued growth in ESG and Sustainable Investing.  As Social Impact and Environmental Performance continue to grow in importance for Regulators, Markets, Employees and other stakeholders increasing numbers of investors will seek to invest in firms able to manage these risks and capitalize on related opportunities.


ESG, Sustainability & CSR should be as much a business value driver as it is a social and environmental value driver. If it gets out of balance it creates risk and makes the CSR and indeed, even the business itself, potentially less sustainable.

Business is about creating value. CSR is also about creating value; value for society, for

environment and for shareholders.

Thanks for reading


Wayne Dunn

Founder and President

CSR |ESG Institute


Prof. Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an award-winning global sustainability expert with extensive teaching, writing, lecturing and advisory service experience. He is supported by an extensive faculty and advisory team.