5 Drivers Behind the Sustainable Investing Shift
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Against all odds, sustainable investing in the U.S. smashed records in 2020.
Estimated net flows reached $20.9 billion in the first six months alone—that’s nearly equal to the amount of new money invested in all of 2019.
What is driving the shift to sustainable investing? This visual dashboard from Raconteur explains five key drivers, from generational shifts to investors’ preferred strategies.
Millennial Investors and Personal Beliefs
Interest in sustainable investing is booming across the general population. However, there’s a clear generational trend, as well.
While the portion of each group that is “very interested” in sustainable investing has shot up since 2015, this share is significantly higher for millennials.
Another correlated trend emerges with this.
These days, investors are more likely to follow their conscience. Acccording to a recent report by Schroders, the majority of investors will not budge on investing against their beliefs, even if returns were theoretically higher.
|Level of Investment Knowledge|
|Would you invest against your personal beliefs?||Beginner||Intermediate||Expert|
|Yes, if returns are higher||18%||20%||29%|
|No, I would not invest against my beliefs.||82%||80%||71%|
Top Themes of Interest
Powered by these personal beliefs, which categories are attracting investors? It turns out many investors are very interested in including environment-related themes into their portfolios:
- Plastic reduction: 46%
- Climate change: 46%
- Community development: 42%
- Circular economy: 39%
- Sustainable Development Goals: 36%
- Multicultural diversity: 30%
- Gender diversity: 30%
- Faith-based values: 24%
However, these aren’t the only considerations. Other themes that fit into broader ESG categories such as gender diversity or faith-based values make an appearance, too.
Which Investor Groups are Driving Interest?
Now, we turn our attention to the specific groups that are responsible for the growing momentum towards sustainable investing. This may be surprising to some, but it is institutional investors that are leading the pack by far:
|Group||Share of Group|
|High net worth (HNW) investors||19%|
|Politicians or regulators||13%|
|Industry trade bodies||6%|
This also disproves a common myth that millennials are the only ones interested in the sector. Institutional investors equally want to see a double bottom line: an ROI on their money, while also making the world a more sustainable place.
Sources of Information
So where are institutional investors sourcing their information around sustainable investing? Sharing their ideas in like-minded communities, such as webinars and conferences emerged as the preference for nearly two-thirds of those surveyed in this group.
But how do investors know that their investment is truly sustainable? For this, 34% of global investors feel that third-party labels from independent organizations help lend credibility, and confirm that the chosen investment in question is indeed carried out in a responsible manner.
As more and more institutional investors are digital natives, a significant share of them are also beginning to use social media to influence their decision-making process—and some even rely on it as their key source of research.
Sustainable Investing Strategies
We’ve left the best for last—armed with this knowledge and confidence, which sustainable investing strategies are the most attractive? Here’s how organizations are approaching ESG:
- Sustainability integration: 52%
- Negative screening: 50%
- Shareholder engagement: 31%
- Impact investing: 19%
- Positive screening: 12%
- Thematic investing: 5%
While negative screening—avoiding investments in “sin” stocks such as tobacco or fossil fuels—is still a popular strategy, actively integrating sustainability into one’s portfolio is emerging more front and center.
The Overall Trend of Sustainable Investing
The data makes clear that institutional investors are the main driving forces behind sustainable investment for the time being. But as millennials accumulate wealth, their values may naturally lead them towards more sustainable investment.
Another important point to note is that sustainable investing has been resilient to change. In fact, despite the COVID-induced stock selloff in early 2020, ESG leaders exceeded expectations.
While these drivers evolve over time, it’s clear that sustainable investing is more than having its moment in the spotlight—it’s here to stay.
Visualizing China’s Energy Transition in 5 Charts
This infographic takes a look at what China’s energy transition plans are to make its energy mix carbon neutral by 2060.
Visualizing China’s Energy Transition in 5 Charts
In September 2020, China’s President Xi Jinping announced the steps his nation would take to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 via videolink before the United Nations Assembly in New York.
This infographic takes a look at what this ambitious plan for China’s energy would look like and what efforts are underway towards this goal.
China’s Ambitious Plan
A carbon-neutral China requires changing the entire economy over the next 40 years, a change the IEA compares to the ambition of the reforms that industrialized the country’s economy in the first place.
China is the world’s largest consumer of electricity, well ahead of the second place consumer, the United States. Currently, 80% of China’s energy comes from fossil fuels, but this plan envisions only 14% coming from coal, oil, and natural gas in 2060.
|Energy Source||2025||2060||% Change|
Source: Tsinghua University Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy; U.S. EIA
According to the Carbon Brief, China’s 14th five-year plan appears to enshrine Xi’s goal. This plan outlines a general and non specific list of projects for a new energy system. It includes the construction of eight large-scale clean energy centers, coastal nuclear power, electricity transmission routes, power system flexibility, oil-and-gas transportation, and storage capacity.
Progress Towards Renewables?
While the goal seems far off in the future, China is on a trajectory towards reducing the carbon emissions of its electricity grid with declining coal usage, increased nuclear, and increased solar power capacity.
According to ChinaPower, coal fueled the rise of China with the country using 144 million tonnes of oil equivalent “Mtoe” in 1965, peaking at 1,969 Mtoe in 2013. However, its share as part of the country’s total energy mix has been declining since the 1990s from ~77% to just under ~60%.
Another trend in China’s energy transition will be the greater consumption of energy as electricity. As China urbanized, its cities expanded creating greater demand for electricity in homes, businesses, and everyday life. This trend is set to continue and approach 40% of total energy consumed by 2030 up from ~5% in 1990.
Under the new plan, by 2060, China is set to have 42% of its energy coming from solar and nuclear while in 2025 it is only expected to be 6%. China has been adding nuclear and solar capacity and expects to add the equivalent of 20 new reactors by 2025 and enough solar power for 33 million homes (110GW).
Changing the energy mix away from fossil fuels, while ushering in a new economic model is no small task.
Up to the Task?
China is the world’s factory and has relatively young industrial infrastructure with fleets of coal plants, steel mills, and cement factories with plenty of life left.
However, China also is the biggest investor in low-carbon energy sources, has access to massive technological talent, and holds a strong central government to guide the transition.
The direction China takes will have the greatest impact on the health of the planet and provide guidance for other countries looking to change their energy mixes, for better or for worse.
The world is watching…even if it’s by videolink.
Visualizing 50+ Years of the G20’s Energy Mix
Watch how the energy mix of G20 countries has evolved over the last 50+ years.
Visualizing 50+ Years of the G20’s Energy Mix (1965–2019)
Over the last 50 years, the energy mix of G20 countries has changed drastically in some ways.
With many countries and regions pledging to move away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner sources of energy, the overall energy mix is becoming more diversified. But shutting down plants and replacing them with new sources takes time, and most countries are still incredibly reliant on fossil fuels.
G20’s Energy History: Fossil Fuel Dependence (1965–1999)
At first, there was oil and coal.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, energy consumption in the G20 countries relied almost entirely on these two fossil fuels. They were the cheapest and most efficient sources of energy for most, though some countries also used a lot of natural gas, like the United States, Mexico, and Russia.
|Country (Energy Mix - 1965)||Oil||Coal||Other|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||98%||0%||2%|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||19%||81%||0%|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||20%||77%||3%|
But the use of oil for energy started to decrease, beginning most notably in the 1980s. Rocketing oil prices forced many utilities to turn to coal and natural gas (which were becoming cheaper), while others in countries like France, Japan, and the U.S. embraced the rise of nuclear power.
This is most notable in countries with high historic oil consumption, like Argentina and Indonesia. In 1965, these three countries relied on oil for more than 83% of energy, but by 1999, oil made up just 55% of Indonesia’s energy mix and 36% of Argentina’s.
Even Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, began to utilize oil less. By 1999, oil was used for 65% of energy in the country, down from a 1965 high of 97%.
G20’s Energy Mix: Gas and Renewables Climb (2000–2019)
The conversation around energy changed in the 21st century. Before, countries were focused primarily on efficiency and cost, but very quickly, they had to start contending with emissions.
Climate change was already on everyone’s radar. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992, and the resulting Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions was signed in 1997.
But when the Kyoto Protocol went into effect in 2005, countries had very different options available to them. Some started to lean more heavily on hydroelectricity, though countries that already utilized them like Canada and Brazil had to look elsewhere. Others turned to nuclear power, but the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan turned many away.
This is the period of time that renewables started to pick up steam, primarily in the form of wind power at first. By 2019, the G20 members that relied on renewables the most were Brazil (16%), Germany (16%), and the UK (14%).
|Country (Energy Mix - 2019)||Natural Gas||Nuclear||Hydroelectric||Renewables||Other|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||37%||0%||0%||0%||63%|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||3%||2%||0%||2%||93%|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||16%||11%||0%||2%||71%|
However, the need to reduce emissions quickly made many countries make a simpler switch: cut back on oil and coal and utilize more natural gas. Bituminous coal, one of the most commonly used in steam-electric power stations, emits 76% more CO₂ than natural gas. Diesel fuel and heating oil used in oil power plants emit 38% more CO₂ than natural gas.
As countries begin to push more strongly towards a carbon-neutral future, the energy mix of the 2020s and onward will continue to change.
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