Burton Malkiel’s Misguided View of ESG Investing

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Burton Malkiel, esteemed author of the classic investing book A Random Walk Down Wall Street is one of the more prominent critics of environmental-, sustainable- and governance-based (ESG) investing. He called ESG investing a “self-defeating” strategy in a recent Wall Street Journal column.

But Malkiel and other detractors who claim ESG is a fad are missing a key element in their arguments, namely that companies are incorporating sustainability into their operations both in response to – and increasingly quite apart from – the ESG investing trend.

People invest in stocks because they want to make money. That’s a basic truth that ESG investing neither needs nor seeks to change. Rather, ESG investing asks, “If you can do good with your money while also achieving attractive returns, why wouldn’t you?”

Research shows no inconsistency between those objectives, which is one reason individual and institutional investors representing trillions of dollars have gravitated toward ESG-integrated investing. The latest survey of asset managers by the US SIF foundation shows some $15 trillion of U.S. assets are invested in strategies that incorporate ESG factors as part of the investment analysis. ESG assets have more than tripled in the last 10 years and have grown more than 10-fold in the last 25 years. And demand will continue to rise as more than $30 trillion of wealth is set to be transferred to women and children of baby boomers, a demographic cohort drawn to ESG investing, by 2030.