When it comes to investing, greenwashing is the use of misinformation to gain investor confidence around a company’s ESG claims.
Greenwashing red flags include purposefully vague copy, award claims and scientific terms and buzzwords.
Experienced financial professionals can help safeguard against greenwashing, reviewing an investment’s benefits, significance and effort prior to recommending it to investors.
If you’re a purpose-driven investor, you may already be engaged in impact investing.
You’ve selected investments based on their positive environmental or social impact and the prospect of favorable returns. You’ve established a portfolio that mirrors your values. But how can you be sure that every company or fund in your investment portfolio is genuinely committed to a higher set of business standards?
Could you be “greenwashed” and not know it? It’s possible.
“Greenwashing shows up in the investment industry when a fund gets re-labeled as impact or when an investment manager repurposes it as impact.”
Chad Burlingame, director of Impact Investing at U.S. Bank
In its basic form, greenwashing uses manipulation and misinformation to garner consumer confidence around a company’s environmental, social or governance (ESG) claims. According to Chad Burlingame, CFA, CAIA, director of Impact Investing at U.S. Bank, “Greenwashing is marketing hype that applies to companies overstating their ESG efforts. It also shows up in the investment industry when a fund gets re-labeled as impact or when an investment manager repurposes it as impact.”
Companies across the globe may misrepresent their green credentials to deceive investors and consumers for economic gain or public favor. Greenwashing can be disguised in many ways:
You don’t have to be an investigative reporter to uncover questionable greenwashing practices. Look for red flags in marketing ads, on product labels or on a company’s website:1
If you’re new to impact investing, you may be unsure where or how to begin. Or, if your portfolio is already focused on impact investments, you may want to re-evaluate it with a critical eye to greenwashing. In any case, consider working with a financial professional as your next step.
Burlingame acknowledges, “Impact investing and its terminology can be confusing to investors. Greenwashing is an additional challenge and creates a bad investor experience. Your financial professional is a first line of defense who provides transparency and guidance.”
Experienced financial professionals can serve as a safeguard against greenwashing. Ask them how they are incorporating ESG factors into their work practices. Listen for objectivity in their comments. As Burlingame asserts, “Questions should be asked of [your professional]. It allows them to highlight their corporate reputation and commitment to impact.”
ESG criteria include:
Furthermore, financial professionals review data and eliminate ambiguity in three critical investment areas when performing their due diligence:
As impact investing demands rise, the available data and reporting capabilities are growing, too. Burlingame reinforces the growth. “In the 1990s, 20 companies disclosed ESG data. Today, that number is over 9,000. The increase in data and ability to analyze it helps quantify the non-financial benefits. That allows financial professionals to go beyond screening out the bad or tilting toward the good, and instead direct capital to potential solutions.”
While the ESG investing landscape is comprised of many ethics-based businesses and investment managers, greenwashing remains a concern due to a lack of detailed regulatory oversight. Working with a trusted financial professional to evaluate the impact claims of any business or fund manager can be critical to your investment endeavor. It may also simply provide greater peace of mind.
Learn more about how we approach impact investing.
Learn how your personal values can be meaningfully incorporated into your investment strategy.
Why is diversification important in investing? Because risk never disappears – even in times of economic growth.