Through a second-level review of 60 review studies – including both, vote-count studies and meta-analyses – on the ESG–CFP relation, we are able to combine more than 3700 study results from more than 2200 unique primary studies. Based on this sample, we clearly find evidence for the business case for ESG investing. This finding contrasts with the common perception among investors. The contrary perception of investors may be biased due to findings of portfolio studies, which exhibit, on average, a neutral/mixed ESG–CFP performance relation. It is important to be aware that the results of these (to date about 150 studies) are overlaid by various systematic and idiosyncratic risks in portfolios and, in the case of mutual funds, by implementation costs. Still more than 2100 other – in particular company-focused – empiric studies suggest a positive ESG relation.

ESG outperformance opportunities exist in many areas of the market. In particular, we find that this holds true for North America, Emerging Markets, and in non-equity asset classes. Our results propose that capital markets so far demonstrate no consistent learning effects regarding the ESG–CFP relation: Since the mid-1990s, the positive correlation patterns in primary studies have been stable over time.

Based on this exhaustive review effort, our main conclusion is: the orientation toward long-term responsible investing should be important for all kinds of rational investors in order to fulfill  their fiduciary duties and may better align investors’ interests with the broader objectives of society. This requires a detailed and profound understanding of how to integrate ESG criteria into investment processes in order to harvest the full potential of value-enhancing ESG factors.

A key area for future research is to better understand the interaction of different ESG criteria in portfolios and the relevance of specific ESG sub-criteria for CFP. These insights will shed further light on the ESG determinants for long-term positive performance impacts.

By: Gunnar Friede, Timo Busch, and Alexander Bassen

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