Best Ethical Investment Funds: Our Top Picks In 2020

Ethical investment funds have been available for well over 20 years, but with recent world events there has been a new surge in interest in sustainable investing.

With climate change becoming increasingly a focus for world governments, investment managers are being put under pressure to support initiatives that provide positive solutions to mitigate the impact of the human activity on our planet.

In the last 12 months as well as campaigners such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion who have caught the headlines in waking people up to the real impact of climate change, more people are recognizing that changing weather patterns which have led to the recent devastating fires in Australia, recent unprecedented locust plagues in east Africa and Pakistan, flooding at record levels across the world and the ongoing plastic pollution challenge are a present reality that requires action.

The UK government has recently launched (18th November 2020) a 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution with a focus on making the UK a global leader in green technologies. Some of the plan focuses on investing in advancing offshore wind, greener buildings, green finance and innovation which is great news for the evironment and good news for investors.

Alok Sharma Minister for the Dept for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in a speech at the 3rd global re-invest renewable energy investors meet & expo on 26th November 2020, said:

” To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we must decarbonise the global economy five times faster in the next ten years than we have done over the past twenty.

We all know that the power sector accounts for a quarter of global emissions.

Decarbonising is absolutely vital. Not only to reduce emissions.

But to boost access to power, and to support clean growth and development.”

With the world in the midst of a global pandemic many funds that are run on environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles have seen record inflows of investment in the last 6 months.

We have highlighted our selected top ethical investment fund picks that are worth considering:

1. Royal London Sustainable Leaders

This fund is fast becoming one of the UK’s most popular funds with £1.7bn invested run by Citywire AAA rated fund manager Mike Fox.

 “This is a suitable core UK ethical fund for investors wanting to improve their portfolio’s ESG profile,” says Adrian Lowcock, head of personal investing at Willis Owen.

The fund invests in UK equities but can also invest up to 20% in overseas equities.

The Sustainable Leaders fund’s strong record extends over 10 years, as it has delivered a total return including dividends of 182%, while the index has risen 85% and competitors in the IA UK All Companies sector have generated an average of 97%.

The perspective of the Royal London sustainable management team is that ‘Our premise is in ten years’ time all investing will be sustainable investing, because you cannot optimise your risk-return without embedding sustainability into your investment decisions.’

This fund has been particularly popular in the last 6 months with investors with record inflows of £400m.

Invest From
£25 per month or £100 single
Fund

Sustainable Leaders

ISA, SIPP & Direct Investment
Why we like it:  A consistent performer this popular £1.7bn fund run by triple A Citywire rated fund manager Mike Fox works on a “best ideas” basis with 40 to 50 company holdings . The fund applies both negative and positive screening. Sectors considered more favourably include healthcare and technology, whereas areas such as commodities are generally avoided. There is also a focus on long-term themes and trends such as infrastructure and changing demographics. The fund has reasonable ongoing charges of 0.76% pa for an actively managed fund. Important information: Please remember the value of your investment and any income from it may fall as well as rise and is not guaranteed. You may get back less than you invest.
 

2. Baillie Gifford Positive Change

This is a relatively new fund launched in January 2017 but has demonstrated strong performance in this short time. The fund invests in a portfolio of 25 to 50 gloabal high quality companies which can deliver positive change in one of four areas:

  • Social inclusion and education
  • Environment & resource needs
  • Healthcare & quality of life
  • Base of the pyramid (addressing the needs of the world’s poorest populations)

The fund has made the news recently as it is one of the major backers behind the the US biotechnology company “Moderna” which has sent stock markets rallying with news of a promising early trial for its experimental Covid-19 vaccine.

The funds largest exposure is to the health care sector (35%), while its top 10 holdings include Tesla, Alphabet, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

The fund has an ongoing charge of 0.53% pa.

Invest From
£25 per month or £100 single
Fund

Positive Change

ISA, SIPP & Direct Investment
Why we like it: A low cost ethical fund (0.53% pa ongoing charge) with the objective of the Fund to invest at least 90% in shares of Companies anywhere in the world whose products or behaviour make a positive impact on society and or the environment. Investment will target critical areas such as; education; social inclusion; healthcare, and the environment. The fund has done well to date with fund managers Julia Angeles, Kate Fox, Kirsty Gibson, Lee Qian and Will Sutcliffe gaining top Citywire AAA ratings for the best three-year total return to the end of March for a sterling fund in the Morningstar Global sector. Important information: Please remember the value of your investment and any income from it may fall as well as rise and is not guaranteed. You may get back less than you invest.
 

3. Impax Environmental Markets

Launched in 2002 Impax Environmental Markets is one of the UK’s largest environmental focused investment trusts which aims to enable investors to benefit from growth of more efficient delivery of services such as energy, water and waste.

“The current pandemic has served to highlight many of the existential issues that Impax has highlighted over the years, such as the breakdown in the food supply change and strain on digital/ technology,”

“COVID-19 has provided us with real-life insight into the potential risks facing us as we transition to a more sustainable economy.” John Foster, Fund manager.

It mainly invests in quoted companies which provide, utilise, implement or advise on technology based systems, products and services in areas such as alternative energy, water treatment, pollution control, waste technology and resource management (which includes sustainable food, agriculture and forestry).

In their ESG policy they state that:

  • Capital markets will be shaped profoundly by global sustainability challenges including climate change, environmental pollution, natural resource constraints, demographic and human capital issues such as diversity, inclusion and gender equity.
  • These trends will drive growth for well-positioned companies and create risks for those unable or unwilling to adapt.
  • Fundamental analysis which incorporates long-term risks, including environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, enhances investment decisions.

The fund has an ongoing charge of 1.02% pa.

Invest From
£25 per month or £100 single
Fund

Impax Environmental Markets

ISA, SIPP & Direct Investment
Why we like it: Launched in 2002 this fund is the UK’s largest environmental investment trust. The fund has a focus on investing in companies that offer solutions in; clean energy & energy efficiency; water treatment and pollution control; waste technology and natural resource management; sustainable food. The fund managers are focused on being invested in companies that can come out well from the COVID-19 pandemic. Important information: Please remember the value of your investment and any income from it may fall as well as rise and is not guaranteed. You may get back less than you invest.
 

4. Lyxor Green Bond

Launched in 2017 this fund is an ETF which offers investors access to the green bond market. As at June 2020 the fund had hit more than EUR300 million in assets under management, making it the world’s biggest green bond ETFs in terms of AUM.

The fund is a low cost index tracker which tracks the Solactive Green Bond EUR USD IG Index which gives investors access to a portfolio

Green Bonds are basically the same as standard bonds but have a “green” feature. The idea behind them is to use the money raised for projects that positively affect the environment or contribute to the fight against climate change.

The shift to a low-carbon economy involves investing in ecofriendly assets and projects. Getting public and private investors to buy ‘green bonds’ is an important way of raising the necessary capital.

The Lyxor Green Bond ETF has been awarded the Greenfin label, created by the French Ministry of Ecological Transition and Solidarity in late 2015 to certify a funds’ green credentials.  Lyxor are committed to fighting climate change, which was been recently backed up by the launch of the first equity ETF Climate ecosystem designed to meet European Commission standards and reflect the ambitions of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Overall, Lyxor ETF now manages assets of over EUR2 billion in its ESG range.

The fund has a low ongoing charge of 0.25% pa which you would expect for an index tracker.

Invest From
£25 per month or £100 single
Fund

Gree Bond

ISA, SIPP & Direct Investment
Why we like it:  Lyxor is a leading provider of passive index tracking funds. This is a low cost global bond fund which tracks the Solactive Green Bond EUR USD IG Index providing exposure to the Green bond market.  Important information: Please remember the value of your investment and any income from it may fall as well as rise and is not guaranteed. You may get back less than you invest.
 

5. Fundsmith Sustainable Equity Fund

Investing ethically often means that a fund manager will proactively avoid certain companies or industry sectors.

This fund which was launched in 2017 adopts similar investment principles to the better-known Fundsmith Equity fund but excludes specific companies and sectors from its investment universe.

Fundsmith is focused on delivering superior investment performance at a reasonable cost. It was established to be different from its peers so as to achieve a different result in line with Sir John Templeton’s axiom that “If you want to have a better performance than the crowd, you must do things differently from the crowd.” 

In its short history, the fund has outperformed the average return of funds in the Investment Association’s Global sector.

The investment objective of the Company is to achieve long term growth in value.

The Company will invest in equities on a global basis. The Company’s approach is to be a long term investor in its chosen stocks.

It will not adopt short-term trading strategies.

The fund has an ongoing charge of 1.05%.

Invest From
£25 per month or £100 single
Fund

Sustainable Equity

ISA, SIPP & Direct Investment
Why we like it:  The fund follows the same principles as the highly successful Fundsmith Equity fund investing in sustainable businesses that can be held for the long term but with the important difference of excluding certain sectors such as aerospace and defence as outlined in their fund prospectus. Fundsmith screens investments for sustainability in the widest sense, taking account not only the companies’ handling of environmental, social and governance policies and practices but also their policies and practices on research and development, new product innovation, dividend policy and the adequacy of capital investment. Since 2014, Fundsmith has been running a sustainable equity segregated mandate for Comic Relief the portfolio of which forms the basis of this fund. Terry Smith, Fundsmith’s founder and chief executive, and other members of the Fundsmith team have invested over £10 million into the fund since lts launch in 2017. Important information: Please remember the value of your investment and any income from it may fall as well as rise and is not guaranteed. You may get back less than you invest.
 

The rise of sustainable Investing

In the past investing with your concience often came with a health warning to expect lower investment returns compared to conventional funds. However it is perfectly possible to make a profit and to invest with a concience at the same time.

The global Covid-19 pandemic is making people rethink to – In recent research carried out by HSBC, they found that whe analyzing data within the stockmarket turmoil, shares of companies focused on climate change or ESG issues – environmental, social and governance – outperformed as the virus spread.

HSBC Research found that in the three months after the  10 December 2019 ( the date of the first recorded COVID-19 case in China) – climate stocks outperformed global equities by 7.6 %, while high ESG-rated stocks have outperformed by 3.7 per cent.

“A key part of environmental, social and governance is looking at how companies serve society, and what this may mean for the future. When crises manifest – particularly with social and environmental causes and implications, including COVID-19 – we see ESG issues as a defensive characteristic. Investors should consider the materiality of these issues and assess how well businesses manage the associated risks and opportunities”.

Ashim Paun, Co-Head, ESG Research at HSBC

In a Harvard study it was found that companies with good ratings on sustainability issues most relevant to their industries, significantly outperformed companies with poor ratings on these issues.

In research carried out by HSBC  it was found that  ESG issues make up an estimated average of 43% of the key medium-term financial performance drivers. This rises to an average of 50% for emerging markets and this is even higher for sectors like mining, automotive and capital goods.

What is ESG investing?

Investors are increasingly becoming more interested in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards of the companies they invest in.

Fund managers in the sustainable, ethical and socially responsible investing (SRI) space put these concerns at the heart of their investment processes  looking to generate financial returns and benefit society at the same time.

Looking closely at Alok Sharma’s speech he went on to say:

” To make the global green energy transition a reality. We need investors to keep seizing the opportunities presented by the renewables revolution. In India and of course around the world.

And these opportunities are enormous.

A study by Imperial College London and the International Energy Agency found that investments in renewables have repeatedly outperformed those in fossil fuels:

Over the past ten years, the past five years, and in 2020.

Solar and wind are already cheaper than coal power in two thirds of countries.

Momentum is building globally behind net zero. With China, Japan and South Korea all recently setting targets.

Colleagues and friends will know And on 12th December, the UK will co-host a summit, with the UN and France, and our partners Italy and Chile, to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement.

This will be the moment for global leaders to show that we can make a step change on climate action.”

Peter Michaelis, head of the Liontrust Sustainable Investment team, helps to provide clarification about the sustainable methods fund managers use.

“The first is negative screening, which, as it suggests, avoids certain industries because of the negative or damaging effects of their products. Examples include weapons and tobacco.

Mr Michaelis explains: “Another approach is to invest in sustainable themes. This is known as positive screening, as it sees funds focusing on what they want to invest in, rather than what they want to cut out.

“Such funds may concentrate on a single theme such as renewable energy while others have multiple sustainability themes that can include healthcare, resource efficiency, and education.

“Many cling to the perception that ethical investment is about what you can’t do, whereas we think it’s about what you can do.”

ESG is a recognized way of measuring company sustainability not just from one ethical stance but 3:

  • Environmental – looking at how companies make an impact on climate change, how they deal with waste and its management, water stewardship, management of energy resources and mitigation of air and water pollution
  • Social – This looks at how companies engage with their staff, customers and communities with regard to human rights; consumer privacy; data security; health and safety and gender equality.
  • Governance – This addresses how well companies manage their businesses through the board and its executive remuneration structure; the ownership structure of the company; the processes used to report financially and the culture within the organisation.

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Important Risk Information:

This website contains information only and does not constitute advice or a personal recommendation in any way whatsoever. The value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise and you may not get back the full amount invested. The tax efficiency of ISAs is based on current tax law and there is no guarantee that tax rules will stay the same in the future.

Different types of investment carry different levels of risk and may not be suitable for all investors. Prior to making any decision to invest, you should ensure that you are familiar with the risks associated with a particular investment and should read the product literature. If you are in any doubt as to the suitability of a particular investment, both in respect of its objectives and its risk profile, you should seek independent financial advice.

Written by Editorial Team ,
28th November 2020