The sky over the Bay Area is covered with a smoke so thick that it is blocking the sun, leaving it orange and ominous. The image (even in a news article) is a wince-worthy reminder that we are in the year 2020, and the world is different.

With a record 900,000 acres of wildfires burning across Oregon, more than 10% of the state’s 4.2 million population have been evacuated, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. That’s a lot of people, and evacuations aren’t anticipated to end there. In total, 12 western states are burning somewhere, with Oregon, California, and Washington most severely impacted. 

“There’s certainly been nothing in living memory on this scale,” describes Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California in an interview with the New York Times

Extreme weather is a new reality, and it matters a lot to the future of economies around the world. In January 2020, before the most recent fires, the Bank for International Settlements (an umbrella organization for the world’s central banks) predicted that the disruptive effects of climate change could usher in the next financial crisis. 

This report was not a one off. According to the January 2020 Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum, the top five global risks are climate-change related. Extreme weather, which includes floods, storms, wildfires and warmer temperatures, is putting millions at risk for food and water insecurity, property and infrastructure damage, and displacement. 

Now, it’s September and we are looking from near or far at the hazy orange sky above the Bay Area wondering: what’s next?

Where climate change was once a theory that people accepted or not in the same way that they preferred cream or not in their coffee, things are changing fast. This is especially true among millennials, who are making no mistake about where their money is being invested, namely into sustainability-oriented funds.

In what might be considered a ray of hope in a strange world, their environmental investment dollars are starting to add up and smash investing records. 

Here’s what environmental investing is and why it has more momentum than ever before. 

What is green investing?

In 2019, “estimated net flows into open-end and exchange-traded sustainable funds that are available to U.S. investors totaled $20.6 billion for the year,” according to Morningstar. “That’s nearly 4 times the previous annual record for net flows set in 2018.” This near exponential growth in investor interest is in part attributed to younger investors with a specific interest in the environment. 

Perhaps even more impressive, in the first quarter of 2020, sustainable investing totaled $10.5 billion, keeping momentum despite the economic downturn ushered in by the pandemic. 

So, where exactly are these dollars going?

It depends. When it comes to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investments can look much differently from one to the next. 

For one, some investors have a specific interest in “climate change innovators.” According to MSCI, these are companies working to innovate and scale new technologies in a way that solves climate problems in new ways. Beyond investing in the next big technology that might lead us to a net-zero carbon world, investors are looking more and more at the environmental policies of the companies that they invest with across the board. These policies include water management strategies that use water responsibly and the prioritization of protecting biodiversity in corporate operations.  

The relevance of biodiversity to our day-to-day lives is as close as the latest summer “Save the Bees” campaign. Honeybees are crucial for pollinating much of the global food supply, from apples to almonds. It’s estimated that bees are responsible for one of every three bites of food eaten in the United States. In addition to the use of insecticides used for many commercial crops, the destruction of habitat and decline in biodiversity have severely impacted this important species.  

In other words, in today’s world, how businesses do business matters greatly, not only to the environment at large, but also to the long-term value of a company. To address that, companies are putting more effort than ever into describing how they meet sustainability standards in their business operations. 

Why invest in sustainability? 

In a letter to CEOs, Blackrock CEO, Larry Fink describes climate change as “a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects.” According to Fink, “awareness [of climate change] is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.” 

Fink anticipates a “significant capital reallocation” into sustainable strategies as millennials, who are currently pushing for institutions to develop sustainable strategies and who will eventually become the policy makers and CEOs of the world. 

In other words, environmentally focused investing is the future. 

Not only is it becoming more popular among millennials, it is paying off for investors. According MSCI, “There is a direct, dollar-value payoff for companies to better manage their ESG risks or meet stated sustainability commitments.” 

Interestingly, since the arrival of COVID-19, awareness to and demand for ESG products is on the rise. Not only did the pandemic accelerate interest in these products, it gave them an opportunity to demonstrate their resilience, with ESG investments less impacted by the pandemic-driven market drop in the spring. 

If you are ready for a certain investment in an uncertain world, environmental investing is a natural choice.

How to invest in green initiatives

The environment, of course, impacts every one of us and touches every industry. Investing in such a broad theme can be challenging for investors. Fortunately, a search on Magnifi suggests that there are a number of ETFs and mutual funds that can help investors access this growing and all-encompassing sector.

 

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