This gets at what ESG investing is actually for. It’s an important question, and one people involved in it are often quite slippery about answering. One version is what I laid out above: Al Gore’s pitch, that you can save the world and make money and that these goals are not just compatible, they are complementary. That is a pleasant idea—and, crucially, a great sales pitch if you, for example, run a firm that does ESG investing. This is the promise: You don’t have to sacrifice anything to invest responsibly. This represents a very real break from past political interventions in investing, as Fallows explains:

The current ethical-investment movement dates to the 1960s, when students pressured their universities to rid endowments of holdings in defense contractors or big polluters. The most famous political success of what is called a “negative screen” approach—ruling out certain categories of investment—was the anti-apartheid boycott of South African products and businesses in the 1980s and early 1990s. But all of these methods viewed “ethics” as a minus, the unavoidable cost of doing the right thing. The people at Generation, of course, contend that the “holistic” and “sustainable” view is a business plus, in the service of long-term greed.

But when not addressing a general audience, people behind ESG  investing have a slightly different explanation for what they are actually doing. It is not simply investing responsibly. It is avoiding…

Read more…