Institutional investors often have different characteristics than the family offices and foundations that have helped define the field of impact investing. It is therefore imperative that institutional investors find impact investments that suit their investment objectives. With their significant size and long investment horizons, institutional investors are among those best positioned to reap the returns of impact investing, which also favors stability and profitability over the long term.
This section profiles several sources of potential impact investments suitable for institutional investors. Similar to conventional investment management, these sources include companies (private and public), indices, ETFs, and bonds (or other fixed income instruments). For investors who seek to define what makes an “impact investment,” refer to the Appendix for an explanation of IRIS, a series of metrics that encapsulates many environmental and social themes. It should be noted that the number of new impact investment vehicles continues to grow, and this is by no means an exhaustive catalogue. Whatever the objectives or preferences are, this guide can serve as an introduction to institutional investors who are interested in a broad overview of existing impact investment tools and vehicles.
Many funds choose to invest in companies individually based on their operations or mission. Some specialized venture capital firms, for example, choose to support only clean technologies. Although this is certainly possible for an institutional investor, investments in larger publicly traded companies may be preferred. Institutional investors can choose companies that value certain ethical guidelines in their business operations or products. To determine whether a company qualifies as an “impact investment,” several frameworks can be used. One popular concept that many companies adopt is “corporate social responsibility,” which is loosely defined as compliance with ethical standards in a business model. CSR frameworks can be used to identify companies or organizations that are ethical or impactful in their business operations. Another more active approach for companies is to make social or environmental impact the core of their mission. It is up to the institutional investor to select companies that best fit their appetite for impact (i.e. in operations or in mission) and preferences (e.g. investment horizon, company performance, and company size).