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Ethical Investing – How to Get Started (Australia, 2024)

By Will Ellis
Last Updated on March 4, 2024
Edited by Adam Turner
Fact checked and reviewed

Ethical investment has been gaining traction, and investors have started to take it seriously in recent years. In this piece, I define ethical and sustainable investing, walk you through the first steps, and discuss the future of the industry as a whole.

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Table of Contents:

What is Ethical Investing?  📖

Just what do we mean when we talk about ethical investments?

Ethical investments are those that strive to generate a profit without sacrificing their good social or environmental effect. Essentially, it implies you may benefit monetarily without compromising your values in any way.

Climate change, animal experimentation, labour rights, tobacco, the weapons industry, and gambling are just few of the topics that investors consider while making ethical decisions.

Ethical investment might include eschewing fossil fuel producers in favour of renewable energy enterprises. According to Rob Morgan of the Charles Stanley Direct investment platform, “ethical investing” boils down to a desire for one’s holdings to serve a higher purpose than financial gain.

Invest in successful websites that you trust (*or your own!*) 🌞🌴. 

History of Ethical Investments 🏯

Ethics in financial markets is often influenced by religious beliefs. When religious beliefs play a role, people tend to shun businesses whose operations or policies are at odds with their beliefs. The Quakers of the 18th century are often cited as the first Americans to practise ethical investing when they forbade their members to participate in the slave trade.

John Wesley, a founder of Methodism, preached the same message at about the same time. He advocated avoiding businesses that may have a negative impact on one’s community, such as chemical manufacturing.

Islamic banking is another example of a religiously inspired ethical investing regime that avoids alcohol, gambling, pork, and other taboos.

The Amana Mutual Funds Trust provides investment options that are consistent with the tenets of Islamic banking, including the prohibitions on gambling (Maisir), interest (riba), and penalties (murâbah) for late payments.

Ethical investment gained popularity in the 20th century due more to people’s secular values than their religious ones. The political and social atmosphere of the period often influences the ethical investing landscape. Ethical investors in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s avoided corporations and organisations that supported or benefitted from the Vietnam War in favour of those that championed worker equality and rights. Some ethical investors took a similar stance on corporations and organisations involved with the production of nuclear weapons.

Since the 1990s, environmental concerns have been at the forefront of ethical investors’ minds. Ethical investors shifted their money from coal and fossil fuel firms to those that promoted renewable energy sources. Impacts on the environment and society are still at the forefront of modern ethical investment.

Does Ethical Investing Work?

Is it possible?

Is it possible for you to invest in a morally responsible manner?

A decade ago, there was significantly less variety in terms of ethical and sustainable investing options than there is now. Keep in mind, however, that there is no universally applicable concept of ethics. 

There is no universally accepted method for ethical investment since its meaning varies from person to person, be it Socially Responsible Investments (SRIs) or ecological investments.  According to Morgan, the variety of labels does more harm than good. In the end, you’re making decisions that will have a beneficial effect on the globe because of the investments you make.

Performance Levels

High or low? 🏎️

Do investment portfolios with moral principles underperform?

Many people wrongly believe that ethical investing entails giving up potential for profit. There is no proof of a lack of performance by ethical funds; just the opposite is true for some.

The overall performance of all funds is affected by a variety of variables. Be wary of the following while investing in ethically focused, actively managed funds:

  • How long the current head of the fund has been in charge
  • How the overarching organisation feels about this kind of investment

What is The Size of The Market for Ethical Investments 🗽

In the big scheme of things, ethical investment is still on the tiny side, but it’s expanding quickly.

According to data company Morningstar, between April 2019 and June 2020, $71.1 billion was invested into Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) focused mutual funds throughout the world.

A new record high for ESG funds’ total assets under management has been reached.

Around a third of all fund sales in Europe were to ESG funds. More than 70 ethical funds were launched by the financial sector in the first three months of 2020, reflecting this expanding trend. Around 2,505 in total, albeit not all are available to investors.

How Can I Invest My Money?

Consumers now have more options than ever for allocating their hard-earned cash, thanks to the proliferation of ethical investing products.

When investing in stocks or mutual funds, most people utilise an online trading platform. To learn more about the top sites for novice investors, click here.

After you’ve settled on a platform, there are often many options for ethical investing.

Way 1 📙 – Choose Your Own Stocks

You may build your own morally sound portfolio by selecting stocks and bonds that you feel align with your own values and principles.

Picking them and keeping track of their performance and green credentials might be time consuming, but the end result is an investment portfolio that is uniquely suited to your values.

Way 2 📗 – Ethical Mutual Funds

One alternative is to put money into a mutual fund or other actively managed investment vehicle, through an asset management firm that offers an ethical fund.

A responsible investment manager will hunt for the most ethical corporations and assets in which to invest.

Many metrics, such as a company’s commitment to diversity in the workplace, level of openness with customers, and impact on the environment, might be used to evaluate it.

We’ll walk you through 🚶:

It is possible to put your money in an ETF that does not actively seek to make money. An exchange-traded fund’s goal is to match the price movement of an underlying stock market index.

Investors save money with ETFs and tracker funds compared to active funds since they don’t have to pay for the stock-picking expertise of a fund manager.

Typically, an ethical ETF will exclude from an index any firms that produce or distribute illegal goods or services. It might potentially skew the index towards corporations with strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG) indicators or low carbon footprints.

Way 3 📙 – Socially Responsible Investing

Socially Responsible Investment funds (SRI) don’t put money into things like the gambling industry, weapons, cigarettes, alcohol, or oil. Here, the moral values of the investor play a significant role in the decision-making process.

ESG funds differ from SRI funds in that they also take into account the potential effect of environmental, social, and governance risks and opportunities on a company’s bottom line. They may invest in environmentally friendly practices without sacrificing the profitability of their business.

Way 4 – Impact Investments ☄️

The financial success of an impact fund is just as important as its mission. In light of this, they actively seek to implement ethical improvements that will benefit businesses providing certain goods and services. 

Investors who care about doing good for society might find what they’re looking for in impact funds. Funds that adhere to religious principles invest only in companies that share their beliefs.

Advantages of Ethical Investments ☑️

When a holding firm with strong morals succeeds, the investor is pleased. When the firm values the same things as them, it benefits them emotionally and monetarily.

An increase in the number of individuals putting money into ethical funds increases the potential for that money to grow.

It’s encouraging to see the rise of ethical investment, since it will drive more companies to adopt more moral corporate policies in order to compete for investor dollars.

Disadvantages of Ethical Investments ❎

Ethical investing is not a hands-off approach, rather it requires extensive due diligence to ensure the investment plan remains consistent with the investor’s morals and values.

When an investor chooses to invest ethically, they may forego monetary benefit in favour of a more moral stance. Due to the time and effort required to choose a suitable ethical investment, the associated costs may be greater.

Getting Started 📚

Where can I even begin with ethical investing? Where should I start if I want to invest morally? There are a lot of elements to consider before deciding whether to invest in a firm, via the purchase of individual shares or through a fund. There are many factors to weigh, both positive and negative, regardless of whatever path you choose.

  • ✔️ Your financial expertise and self-assurance
  • ✔️ The time period you plan to maintain your investments
  • ✔️ The extent of your investing portfolio 
  • ✔️ Your risk tolerance

To get you started, here are five pointers:

Tip 1 📙 – Recognise Your Values 👍

Discover where your interests lie and what kinds of ethical safeguards are most essential to you before putting any money into the stock market.

How comfortable are you investing in a firm whose products or services you find morally objectionable? To illustrate, how confident are you in investing in an oil firm that is also developing renewable energy sources?

Do your best to have an open mind, since it is very difficult to find a fund or firm that meets all of your ethical and environmental standards. It’s important to consider if you want to implement an ethical investing strategy across the board or simply in certain areas.

Tip 2 📗 – Know Your Financial Status and Research from That Position

If you have a pension, you may already be an investor; if not, it’s important to learn about the moral principles behind your investments. Find out whether you can switch your assets or funds, or if you need to look into a new investment management firm, if you find that your holdings aren’t in line with your ideals. Some superannuation funds offer ethical investment options.

You can either build your own portfolio from the ground up using services like Interactive Investor or Wealthify, or you can utilise a pre-built portfolio if you prefer.

Someone could choose this route because it requires less effort, but that also means they’re content for someone else to decide what’s right and wrong. In order to achieve your long-term financial goals without compromising your moral convictions, you need to zero in on the investments, funds, service providers, and expert assistance that can help you get there.

Investing effectively requires knowing your limits. A stocks and shares ISA, as well as your superannuation, are two tax-advantaged options for ethical investing. A Self-Managed Superannuation Fund (SMSF) or personal pension is a great way to save for retirement and make contributions to the financial security of yourself and others.

Tip 3 📙 – Make a Plan and Follow it

Seeing the bigger picture is essential when figuring out how to include ethical investing in your overall financial strategy. It’s important to stop and think:

  • What is your desired income from your investments? Learn from our investment advice and be practical.
  • What are your plans for this cash? Investing for retirement or a major purchase?
  • What kind of timeline are you working with? If you don’t mind leaving your money alone for ten years or more, you may be able to afford to face greater investing risk.
  • Can you describe your level of loss tolerance? How would you feel if the value of your assets dropped?

After you’ve decided how and where you want to invest, it’s time to put your strategy into action. Personal, values-based financial guidance is what you can expect from independent financial advisors, who can take a bird’s eye view of your position.

Tip 4 📕 – Check Back in Regularly

Regularly check up on your assets. Morgan from Charles Stanley Direct suggests quarterly performance reviews for people making their own investing choices. He recommends monitoring your provider-managed investment portfolio once a year if you have opted for a pre-made plan.

As a socially conscious investor, you won’t find a silver bullet to tell you whether or not a certain fund meets your needs. But, Morgan did provide some points to consider. The fund manager’s website should provide sufficient information to determine these. A few things to look for include:

Check ongoing principles behind assets ✅

Fund managers’ commitment to implementing SRI principles is often reflected in the transparency with which they disclose their performance.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) aspects should be explained in a fund’s literature and incorporated into the investing process. It should make clear whether or not the company employs an ESG investment strategy.

If this seems to be an afterthought, rather than a fundamental part of the investing strategy, you may have good reason to doubt. Yet if the fund regularly publishes impact analyses of its assets, it’s likely that ethical investing is central to its approach.

Check company resources ✅

Consider if the fund uses internal or external ESG research. If possible, do it internally. Although ratings might be useful, it’s important to keep in mind that there can be significant disagreement across agencies.

Check regulations ✅

Investors expect their fund managers to cast votes on important topics at annual shareholder meetings. One way to tell whether a fund manager is serious about bringing about change is whether or not they are willing to vote against management.

On their websites, several funds detail their interactions with investee firms, which might shed light on the fund’s values and philosophy.

Check affiliates ✅

In order to be considered a socially responsible investment fund manager (5 Best Index Funds), financial institutions must adhere to the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). Look for evidence of popular support for ethical capital allocation.

There is a possibility that fund managers may also sign the Stewardship Code. This policy sets the standard for environmentally responsible capital formation.

Check trust-level ✅

If investors care about doing good with their money, you should be able to view the whole portfolio of a fund, not just the top 10. In this approach, all of the underlying businesses may be analysed.

Check expenses ✅

Always keep an eye on the costs associated with an investment, since they have the potential to eat away at your profits.


Future of Ethical Investments 🛰️

How will responsible financing develop in the next years?

Ethical investment funds and sustainable investment funds have historically placed greater emphasis on avoiding investments in businesses whose practices go against the principles of their investors.

Investment managers and private investors often stay away from enterprises involved with weapons, alcohol, tobacco or oil. Yet John David, CEO of ethical investing company Rathbone Greenbank Investments, claims the industry has “advanced” to positive screening.

That’s why it’s becoming more important than ever to diversify your portfolio by investing in firms with a strong social mission rather than only avoiding the bad actors.

Takeaway 📚 🤠

Moving ahead…

According to Deloitte, a professional services company, millennials will account for 75% of the labour market by 2025. This might lead to a dramatic change in pension investments and the broader purchasing power that comes with them.

David, from Rathbone, elaborates, “Just as Millennials and Gen Zers may have strong opinions on the brands that they like, they are increasingly applying the same ethical concerns to their investments.”

But that doesn’t mean people in their golden years aren’t scrutinising their portfolios with the same level of scrutiny. A person who has decided to switch to an electric vehicle may begin to question the wisdom of continuing to invest money into fossil fuels.


Common questions about ethical investing in Australia…

1. How effective is ethical investing?

Ethical investors seek to avoid financial investments in businesses whose practises go against their own moral and religious beliefs. Financial support may still flow to a corporation even if its shareholders decide to boycott it.

When someone buys a stock, they are really giving money to another investor rather than the firm itself. The only time the corporation generates money is during stock offerings like an IPO (IPO). As a result, moral investors aren’t hurting the bad businesses.

It’s worth noting that when ethical investors shun a firm in an effort to send a message, they restrict the number of people who may acquire the company’s shares, which could lead to a price drop.

Ethical investment has positive social effects, but it must meet strict requirements.

  • The world would benefit greatly from the discovery of a potentially lucrative business concept. Good examples of ethical investments are solar panels and other renewable energy sources. Therefore, it would seem counterproductive to invest in a solar panel firm whose production method causes environmental damage.
  • If an investor finds a business opportunity (Small Business Tools and Reviews) that will have a good effect on the world, there must be “additionality” a way in which the firm may develop in a sustainable way. Nevertheless, such a goal is difficult to accomplish in the stock market.
  • Even if you choose not to participate in an immoral company, it may still be able to thrive since there will always be other investors out there looking for great profits.

2. Should people avoid ethical investments?

The practice of ethical investment is not without merit. Companies may expand their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and obtain access to funding thanks to this. In addition, it empowers shareholders to shape the way companies are run in accordance with their own moral standards.

Sometimes this means they get lesser returns on their portfolio, but they believe the trade-off is justified.

3. How can I get started?

When investing for the long haul, it’s important to verify that a company or ethical fund can deliver on its promises. In the world of socially responsible investing, there is always the risk of greenwashing, in which the benefits are exaggerated while the drawbacks are ignored.

It’s important to have a holistic view, since even while most businesses do good things for society (such creating employment), this is just one aspect. Does the potential employer treat workers with respect and dignity? Does it have minors on staff?

David argues, “It’s inaccurate to concentrate on the positives alone; they have to be understood in context of the full picture.” 

To help, below is a check list 📓:

  • Before putting money into an investment, be sure you understand it well.
  • It is your responsibility to keep an eye on the fund or organisation to make sure that its ideals and principles are upheld.
  • Take into consideration how various organisations rank the ethical practises of various businesses. Rather than avoiding industries known for damage, impact investors should look for ones with a commitment to raising industry standards (like an oil company working on renewable energy: 10 Best Renewable Energy Stocks).

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