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How Socially Responsible Investing Can Fit in Your Portfolio

Nov. 2, 2016
Investing, Investing Strategy
How Socially Responsible Investing Can Fit Into Your Portfolio
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By Gregory S. Ostrowski, CFP

Learn more about Gregory on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

What’s good for business and a company’s stock price isn’t always good for society or the environment. Some valuable companies make profits for themselves and their shareholders at the expense of the Earth and the individuals making their products.

But many investors want to put their money to work for themselves in a way that is helpful — or at least not harmful — to the rest of society. Socially responsible business and investment practices allow people to match their investments with their values.

The ‘triple bottom line’

Many companies that look past their own profit to account for the entire impact they’re making on the world consider their “triple bottom line.” This reflects the company’s effect on the three p’s: profit, planet and people. Advocates of this approach believe that businesses are only successful when they add value to each of these areas. You can find examples of businesses and organizations operating in socially responsible ways in virtually every space and across every sector.

Embracing social responsibility isn’t simply altruistic: Today’s consumers are aware of differences in social responsibility between companies and vote with their dollars. Businesses such as Unilever, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Microsoft are leaders in socially responsible business practices. At the same time, they have seen their stock prices trend upward during the last five years.

The growing popularity of socially responsible investing

Some think socially responsible investing is a fad that will go out of favor, but recent data suggests it’s a fast-growing approach. According to a 2014 trend report from US SIF, the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, U.S. assets under management employing socially responsible investing strategies grew by about 76% from 2012 to 2014, to $6.57 trillion at the start of 2014.

Until recently there hasn’t been a consistent way to identify socially responsible investments — but investment research firm Morningstar has developed a new sustainability ranking system. The tool isn’t exhaustive, but the simple ratings, from one to five globes, are a quick way to find out how closely an investment aligns — or doesn’t — with your personal beliefs and values.

The ‘core and explore’ strategy

If you wish to invest in a socially responsible manner, take two important steps. First, review your current holdings with your financial advisor to find out how they could improve from a socially responsible perspective. Then develop a “core and explore” strategy. This means that you’ll maintain broad-based diversification but complement your portfolio with investments that suit your personal beliefs and values. The idea is to slowly transform your portfolio into a more socially responsible mix over time.

With the core aspect of this strategy, focus on the traditional principles of asset allocation and design a portfolio based on your time frame, goals and tolerance for risk. You’ll want to include investments in large, small and midsize companies, and international exposure in moderation might make sense. You might wish to mitigate risk through exposure to fixed-income investments like government or corporate bonds. The idea here is to have a broad mix of investments so that as market conditions evolve not all of your eggs are in the same basket.

For the explore part of the strategy, look at investment options that best match your values. You can choose in conjunction with the Morningstar sustainability rankings. You’ll have options even if you want specific market exposure or a themed approach to a sector or asset class. This will help you tailor your portfolio to better match your values without taking undue risk the way you might if a large portion of your resources were tied to one or two individual companies.

Fortunately, if you’re interested in socially responsible investing, it has never been easier to get started. To implement the strategy in your portfolio, talk with your financial advisor or start your research online.

Gregory S. Ostrowski, CFP, CRPC, is a managing partner of Scarborough Capital Management in Annapolis, Maryland.

This article also appears on Nasdaq