Values-aligned investing is called by many different names, which are commonly misused or misunderstood by investors.
Let me decode the lingo, because a shared understanding of the terminology makes this type of investing more accessible to advisors and investors alike. Please note that there are no universally agreed upon definitions among professionals, and everyone uses the words a bit differently. After 15 years of working in this space, this is how I define the most commonly used terms.
ESG: ESG is shorthand for “environmental, social and governance data.” Business data in each of these three categories are used in tandem with traditional financial metrics to more deeply understand the risks and opportunities an investable company faces.
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Often, ESG data are referred to as “non-balance sheet risk” — but an unexpected incident can quickly move that risk onto the balance sheet. The key takeaway is that ESG is data. How each fund manager or investment professional uses that data varies widely. For more on the different ways ESG data are used, see the ESG section of this article.
SRI: SRI stands for “socially responsible investing.” However, some professionals have kept the initials and substituted new words: “sustainable, responsible and impact investing.” Here, I am defining the traditional and more commonly used term, socially responsible investing.
SRI has historical roots in investing and divesting according to religious values. It grew to include expressing secular values, as well, historically through divesting (choosing not to own and/or selling existing ownership) paired with shareholder engagement (groups of shareholders in conversation with company management about advancing social or environmental good within the company or the communities affected by the company’s business) and proxy voting (how shareholders elect boards and vote on other corporate matters).