Ethical Investing's Deep Human Roots

Bob Eng |

While AI has been raging, I’ve been warming to the idea of ‘ethical investing.’ 

I first encountered the term decades ago when I took a hiatus from my investments career to pursue a doctorate in moral psychology at Harvard (a story for another time 🤣). A book called Ethical Investing by Amy Domini caught my imagination because it bridged the disparate worlds of morals and investing. 

The term ‘ethical investing’ has largely been replaced by other labels such as ‘responsible investing,’ ‘sustainable investing,’ and ‘ESG,’ all of which refer to investment strategies that incorporate social and environmental concerns. Despite its current disuse, I am drawn to the concept of ethical investing, which embodies our innate desire to help others, do what’s right, and make a positive impact.   

Today’s incarnations of ethical investing have become big business, with sustainable investment strategies accounting for 13% of total US assets under professional management, or $8.4 trillion. However, this growth has come at a cost: ethical and sustainable investing have been reduced to mere investment methods or styles, distancing them from their deeply human roots and rendering them flat and lifeless. 

Don’t misunderstand. I support and practice sustainable investing. Yet I don’t plan on surrendering my ethical motivations and moral sensibility.