ESG Investing

What the Shit is ESG Investing?

ESG Investing – The Basics

ESG investing is fundamentally a framework for making value-based investments. As the acronym suggests, “ESG” refers to a triad of factors used to evaluate corporate practices of an organization. 

  • Environmental – is the organization a quality steward of the environment? Do their practices consider natural resource efficiency and conservation? 
  • Social – how does the organization treat its own people and its customers. Does it make a positive impact on its immediate community and beyond? Labor standards and  
  • Governance – how does the organization operate at the highest level? Executive compensation, board composition, business ethics, and political contributions or relationships may all come into focus. 

The ESG framework is usually used in the context of publicly held companies and their traded stocks. However, there is nothing to stop an investor from using the framework to assess other kinds of assets (e.g. private real estate investments, pre-IPO startup/“equity crowdfunding,” or municipal bonds.)

Socially Responsible Real Estate Investing

The very idea of socially responsible real estate investing may raise some eyebrows. Some have argued, credibly, that profitable real estate investing inherently promotes economic inequality. Housing policy in the United States at the federal and local level has historically reinforced racial economic inequality (as Richard Rothstein vividly points out in The Color of Law). Depending on the herd you run in, you also may be well aware of the cyclic displacement that gentrification can effectuate – urban areas were hollowed out by “white flight” – fleeing capital, a diminished tax base, and lack of economic opportunity; those areas become attractive again as affluence grew around these submarkets; communities that settled there (in some cases because it was the only affordable neighborhood) are displaced as yuppies flock to industrial chic yoga studios and beer gardens and rents correspondingly rise. 

ESG Robo Advisors: Present & Future

Robo advisors have been around for well over a decade. Jack Bogle (RIP) – founder and longtime CEO of Vanguard – is widely credited with investing the concept of an “index fund”. Technology, namely the rise of platform-based investing and machine learning in portfolio allocation, has since enabled robo advisors like Betterment and Wealthfront to aggregate index funds, pools of bonds, and other assets to present retail investors (like you and me) a plug-and-play, ready-made portfolio with built-in diversification and broad exposure to the market.

Some Malformed Musings on Money

Money is some weird shit. Here are some thoughts on money… Our fiat currency has no inherent worth; it is – along with our global financial system – an elaborate myth that binds us, keeps us docile, distracts, motivates, and provides a framework by which we compete and collaborate. The closer you get to the money system’s dark alien heart (finance, and to a lesser extent tech, insurance, and legal fields) the more of it you make, but the more you are defined only by the contours and hard angles of the system. Seeking a high-earning profession and letting lifestyle creep and “workism” define your days strikes me as akin to sitting at the scorers table with a manipulative bent. Maybe you grew up loving basketball, and loved the fluidity of the game. But most of all you loved winning. If you end up controlling the scoreboard, anxiously clutching the buttons, meticulously adding a point here, a personal foul there… yeah, you win. But you aren’t exactly on the court, experiencing camaraderie and motion and creativity (in short, being a human) are you?