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For many years, investing with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues in mind was not well understood. When first introduced, investors had many questions surrounding ESG and its potential effect on portfolio returns, but had few places to go for answers. Over time, investment approaches have grown more sophisticated, while data and definitions have evolved, giving investors more information and flexibility. Meanwhile, the rise of systemic issues like climate change and high-profile social and geopolitical movements have brought ESG issues and their potential financial impacts to the fore.

Over the past five years, RBC Global Asset Management (RBC GAM) has published an annual Responsible Investment Survey

of global institutional investors. The survey asks investors in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia for their thoughts on topics trending within the responsible investment universe. We have observed a slow but steady migration towards greater adoption of ESG factors in portfolio management.

To what extend are ESG principles used in your investment decision making?

ESG has evolved

During that period, new research on ESG and new methods of measuring responsible investment and sustainability criteria have emerged, giving investors advanced insights into their portfolios and more methods of engaging with managers and companies.

On top of this, global events have shaped the thinking of governments, regulators, and investors, and have led to significant change and evolution in responsible investing strategies, investor sophistication, and the range of approaches available.

ESG has evolved. It now encompasses a wide range of strategies and styles, many of which target specific ESG themes or focus on targeted market segments. Meanwhile, the consideration of ESG issues in the investment process has continued to grow. For one, global action on addressing the potential impacts of climate change has grown, and investors are incorporating new tools in assessing potential climate-related financial and systemic risks and opportunities. Diversity and inclusion issues have also come to the fore (more on this topic), while investor consideration of other social factors like human rights and supply chain management continues to rise. In addition, regulatory and legislative efforts across the globe aim to improve transparency of material ESG issues. Some are focused on enhanced disclosures for corporations, while others are aimed at market participants themselves, as agencies seek to further define ‘sustainable’ investments.

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building with trees
 RBC GAM survey
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What are your reason(s) for incorporating ESG in your investment approach?

However, it is not all one-way traffic. While those that believe in the merits of ESG investing are increasing in number, there are also those that have chosen not to employ ESG in their investment decisions for various reasons.

Despite this, there is growing evidence of momentum behind responsible investing. RBC GAM’s survey in 2021 showed that 51% of institutional investors believed ESG strategies could help them achieve potential long-term outperformance, or alpha, while 61% believed ESG investing could help mitigate risk.

Look back on the past five years

In this report we look back on the past five years of the evolution of the ESG investing world and explore how it has become a more mainstream way of allocating capital.

We will delve into the events that shaped the path we have taken, the research that has supported it, and the route it may take us in the years ahead.

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