Infographic: Visualizing the Sustainable ETF Universe
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Visualizing the Sustainable ETF Universe

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Sustainable ETF Universe

Visualizing the Sustainable ETF Universe

Globally, sustainable exchange-traded fund (ETF) assets hit $150 billion last year, vaulting 25 times higher than in 2015.

Yet despite this growth, sustainable ETFs—baskets of investments that focus on environmental, social and governance issues—account for roughly 5% of the entire ETF universe. What makes up this rapidly growing market? Where are the most common areas for investment?

To answer this question, this infographic from MSCI breaks down the sustainable ETF universe.

Sustainable ETFs: An Overview

By and large, the scope of sustainable ETFs can vary. One sustainable ETF may consist of clean tech companies, and another could focus on sustainable leaders in the S&P 500. Like the broader ETF market, they typically offer low fees.

Overall, the sustainable ETF universe can be broken down into four types of assets.

ETF Asset ClassGlobal Number of ETFsShare of Total
Equity33180.7%
Bond6916.8%
Mixed Assets82.0%
Alternative20.5%

As of Dec. 31, 2020
Source: MSCI LLC ESG Research (Feb, 2021)

Unsurprisingly, the majority of sustainable ETFs are equity ETFs, comprising 81% of the market as of Dec. 31, 2020.

Following equity ETFs are bond ETFs, at nearly 17% of the total universe. One growing subset, known as green bonds, are typically used to fund environmental projects such as water management and green buildings. Here, debt issuers generate fixed income for investors that target climate objectives.

Meanwhile, there are just eight funds globally, or about 2% of sustainable ETFs, that combine more than one type of asset. Alternative ETFs, which are assets outside of stocks and bonds, are the smallest part of the universe at 0.5%.

Sustainable ETFs by Approach

Next, let’s take a look at different sustainable investing styles. Generally speaking, there are four main approaches: integration, values & screening, thematic, and impact.

ESG ETF by TypeShare of TotalEuropeNorth AmericaAsiaAustralia
Integration40.5%30.8%50.1%57.7%28.6%
Values & screening43.9%60.6%22.5%34.6%71.4%
Thematic12.9%8.7%20.7%3.8%0.0%
Impact2.6%0.0%5.9%3.8%0.0%

As of Dec. 31, 2020
Source: MSCI LLC ESG Research (Feb, 2021)

Integration approaches, which make up 41% of the universe, are when investors use ESG factors to identify risks and opportunities that may enhance long-term performance. A best-in-class method, which invests in leaders in a given sector, is one form of an ESG integration approach.

In the U.S., the 24 largest equity ETFs following this approach hold roughly $25 billion in assets.

At the lower end of the spectrum, 3% of all sustainable ETFs follow impact approaches, which cover investments that provide solutions to environmental and social issues. Investments that fall under this approach may have frameworks that target the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable ETFs by Domicile

Where are the biggest markets for launching sustainable ETFs?

When it comes to the prevalence of sustainable ETFs around the world, Europe leads the way. With over half of all sustainable ETFs, Europe surpasses North America by a significant margin. Of the 40 ETFs with over $1 billion in assets, 26 are domiciled in Europe.

ETF by DomicileNumber of ETFsShare of Total
Europe20850.7%
North America16139.3%
Asia256.1%
Australia143.4%
Other20.5%

As of Dec. 31, 2020
Source: MSCI LLC ESG Research (Feb, 2021)

Despite covering about 6% of the total number of ESG ETFs, interest in sustainability investing is strong in Asia. Notably, one study found that 79% of institutional investors in Asia-Pacific “significantly” or “moderately” increased investment in ESG-linked assets.

Understanding the Carbon Intensity of Sustainable ETFs

Finally, let’s examine how the carbon intensity of sustainable ETFs breaks down. Carbon intensity measures the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted relative to a company’s revenue.

ETF Carbon IntensityShare of TotalAverage Carbon Intensity, Tons of CO2 Equivalent/USD Million Sales
Very Low5.7%0 to <15
Low18.4%15 to <70
Moderate50.1%70 to <250
High18.4%250 to <525
Very High7.4%525 to <2000

As of Dec. 31, 2020
Source: MSCI LLC ESG Research (Feb, 2021)

The carbon intensity of the average company varies significantly across sectors.

Interestingly, under 6% of sustainable ETFs exhibited the lowest carbon intensity levels of 0 to 15 weighted average tons of CO2 equivalent (WACI). Among the lowest carbon-intensive ETFs was one with a greater focus on banking, insurance and financials.

By contrast, sustainable ETFs with the highest carbon intensity levels accounted for over 7% of the total universe, with these funds holding higher shares of mining and utilities companies.

Across all sustainable ETFs, 58% fell within the moderate range of 70 to 250 WACI.

At the Crossroads

Sustainable investing may be one of the most critical movements over the last decade for the financial industry.

But at the same time, greenwashing concerns are rising. To offset this trend, the European Union has set in place new rules on what constitutes a sustainable fund. Here, investments will essentially be labeled as sustainable or not. This could become a global standard.

For investors who wish to invest in sustainable ETFs, the importance of research and data providers will play a more concrete role, especially as the universe continues to expand.

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Technology

Infographic: 11 Tech Trends to Watch in 2023

This infographic highlights eleven exciting areas within the world of technology worth keeping an eye on in 2023.

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11 Tech Trends

Infographic: 11 Tech Trends to Watch in 2023

It can be tough to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation.

Each new year delivers the full spectrum of progress from game-changing breakthroughs to incremental advancements in a wide variety of fields.

In a noisy media landscape fueled by hype and speculation, it can be tough to know where true value is being created. The infographic above, which draws from CB Insights’ recent report on 11 Tech Trends To Watch Closely in 2023, helps narrow down some areas of focus:

  1. Immortality-as-a-service
  2. The secret invasion of super apps
  3. Fintech’s rapid regeneration
  4. Bots in the house
  5. Virtual power plants
  6. Healthcare’s invisibility trick
  7. Smell goes digital
  8. Femtech turns to menopause
  9. The bio-based materials boom
  10. India’s tech ascent
  11. Regenerative agtech takes root

The report draws information from earnings transcripts, media mentions, investment activity, patents, and more to arrive at the trends listed.

We’ll examine three of these trends below in a bit more detail.

Setting the Stage: Clash of the Super Apps

The concept of a super app⁠—an all-in-one smartphone application that integrates a wide range of services⁠—is far from new. In fact, for years now, WeChat has been the go-to app for many Chinese citizens to chat, order services, pay bills, and more.

A natural question comes to mind: why doesn’t an app like that exist in Western countries yet? Well, there are a couple of key reasons:

  1. Consumers and regulators alike are wary of providers holding so much personal information and power. In China, WeChat actually had government support, integrating public services into the app. As well, expectations of personal privacy are completely different in China than in Western countries
  2. Unlike China, which rapidly adopted digital payments, North America and Europe had preexisting near-ubiquitous financial networks in place. Super apps were a game changer for millions of unbanked consumers in China and beyond.

The situation is changing rapidly though, and 2023 could be the year that the foundations are laid for a clash of various Big Tech incarnations of the super app.

In late 2022, Microsoft was rumored to be building a super app using Bing as the foundation, and recent investment into ChatGPT adds fuel to that fire. Even Elon Musk hinted at his ambitions to turn Twitter into a one-stop-shop for just about everything.

There are still significant barriers to bundling a plethora of services into a single app, but that isn’t stopping companies from racing to be the one to do it. To the victor go the spoils.

The Resiliency of Life Extension

The concepts of immortality and age reversal have been a preoccupation of mankind since the dawn of time, so it stands to reason that technology that promises extra lifespan and quality of life continues to be compelling for individuals and investors alike.

Players in this space can approach life extension and anti-aging from a number of different angles, from supplements to tinkering at the cellular level.

Two high-profile examples in this space are Calico, which is a subsidiary of Alphabet, and the Jeff Bezos-backed Altos Labs. Other billionaires have expressed an interest in life extension as well, including Peter Thiel, who has definitive views on mortality.

I believe if we could enable people to live forever, we should do that. […] I think it is against human nature not to fight death. – Peter Thiel

In 2023, look for more investment and news from startups focused on gene therapy, genome analysis, regenerative medicine, or “longevity in a pill”.

Beyond Plastic: The Bio-Based Materials Boom

Public pressure is mounting for producers of consumer goods to change the way they manufacture their products.

The good news is that many of the largest producers of consumer packaged goods and apparel have some kind of plan in place to use more post-consumer recycled plastic in their products. The bad news is that not enough plastic is recycled globally for companies to source enough material to produce their products more sustainably. As a result, many companies are exploring the option of ditching plastic entirely.

For example, materials derived from seaweed are an active area of innovation right now. Mushrooms and algae are also commonly-used materials from nature that are being used to create biodegradable products. In one particularly interesting example, a company called MycoWorks recently began working with GM Ventures to explore the use of mycelium-based leather alternatives in GM’s vehicles.

While researchers and companies are just scratching the surface of what’s possible, consumers are likely to see more tangible examples of bio-based materials popping up in stores. After all, brands will be very eager to talk about their increasingly plastic-free product lines.

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