Interested in ethical investing? Here are the top ETFs you can invest in

Sustainable investment funds range from ASX to globally listed, so what should ESG investors be buying?

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The coronavirus pandemic has increased consciousness about the environment, social injustice and world events at large. In addition, the COP26 UN meeting last year especially focused attention on our planet's climate crisis.

These factors have seen Australian investors move towards ethical investing in a big way. Over the last 2 years, the local ethical funds market has doubled, with assets worth $44.3 billion at the end of 2021, according to data from research firm Morningstar.

Ethical investing involves excluding or being underweight on particular industries or companies that do not meet certain Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria. Given the problems of screening individual stocks on these factors, most investors prefer to take the exchange traded fund route.

Ethical ETFs

There are 5 fund houses that dominate Australia's ESG ETF market, led by Vanguard and Australian Ethical, and followed by BetaShares, Mercer and Dimensional, with most offering multiple investment options.

Of the dozens of options available, here are some of the popular ones, classified by category:

Domestic ETFs

BetaShares Australian Sustainability Leaders ETF (ASX: FAIR). It is the largest of the Australia-focused ethical ETFs, with $1.2 billion in assets. It tracks the Nasdaq Future Australian Sustainability Leaders Index. Key exclusions include companies exposed to fossil fuels, tobacco, alcohol, junk foods, gambling, weaponry, nuclear energy and pornography, among other things. Its diverse portfolio of 88 Australian stocks counts CSL, ResMed, Telstra, Goodman Group and Sonic Healthcare among the top holdings.

Vanguard's Ethically Conscious Australian Shares (ASX: VETH). Among the fastest-growing ethical funds, it holds $313 million in assets, and tracks the FTSE Australia 300 as the underlying index. It excludes companies with activities involving fossil fuels, nuclear power, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, weapons and adult entertainment. Unlike some other ethical ETFs, it counts Australia's Big Four banks among the biggest of its 252 holdings, along with Wesfarmers and Telstra.

Russell Investors Australian Responsible Investment (ASX: RARI). It is focused on dividend-paying Australian companies with positive ESG characteristics and excludes firms manufacturing or distributing alcohol, tobacco, gambling, weapons and pornography. With $263 million in assets spread across 101 companies, it counts the Big Four banks, Telstra and Woolworths among its biggest holdings.

VanEck's Australian Sustainable Equity (ASX: GRNV). Relatively smaller than its peers, the GRNV ETF holds assets worth $95.7 million. It tracks the MSCI Australia IMI Select SRI Screened Index covering a broad mix of large Australian companies and excludes those involved in fossil fuels or mining of coal, oil and gas. Telstra, Goodman Group, Fortescue Metals Group and Transurban are among its major holdings.

BetaShares Global Sustainability Leaders (ASX: ETHI). It is the largest of the international-focused, ASX-listed ethical funds, with $2 billion in assets. It aims to track the Nasdaq Future Global Sustainability Leaders Index, providing exposure to global stocks from developed economies, screened to exclude companies with exposure to fossil fuels, gambling, tobacco, weaponry, nuclear energy and animal cruelty, among other things. Nvidia, Apple, Visa, Mastercard and Toyota comprise the top holdings of its 200-odd stocks.

Vanguard's Ethically Conscious International Shares (ASX: VESG). It holds stocks in some of the world's biggest companies and is diversified across a range of sectors, but excludes those with exposure to fossil fuels, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, weaponry, nuclear power and pornography. It holds assets worth $643 million spread across 1,669 stocks. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Meta and Tesla are among its top holdings.

Sector-specific ETFs

ETFS Battery Tech & Lithium ETF (ASX: ACDC). Despite not having a specific ESG mandate, the ACDC ETF attracts ethical investors because of its focus on clean energy. It tracks the performance of the Solactive Battery Value-Chain Index, which mainly covers companies providing electrochemical storage technology and companies mining battery minerals. It holds assets worth $509 million spread across 33 stocks, with Mineral Resource, Pilbara Minerals, Renault, Nissan and BMW AG among its top holdings.

VanEck Vectors Global Clean Energy ETF (ASX: CLNE). Among the most recent entrants to the ethical ETF space, CLNE gives investors a portfolio of 30-odd large and liquid companies involved in clean energy production and associated technology and equipment globally, with the S&P Global Clean Energy Select as its underlying index. It holds $107.8 million in assets, with Brookfield Renewable, Contact Energy, Siemens and Vestas Wind Systems among its top holdings.

Compare ethical trading platforms

1 - 4 of 4
Name Product Standard brokerage fee Inactivity fee Markets Are ESG stocks highlighted by the broker?
eToro (global stocks)
US$0
US$10 per month if there’s been no login for 12 months
Global shares, US shares, ETFs
Yes
Zero brokerage share trading on US, Hong Kong and European stocks with trades as low as $50.
Note: This broker offers CFDs which are volatile investment products and most clients lose money trading CFDs with this provider.
Join the world’s biggest social trading network when you trade stocks, commodities and currencies from the one account.
Superhero share trading
$5
No
ASX shares, US shares, ETFs
Yes
Pay zero brokerage on US stocks and all ETFs and just $5 (flat fee) to trade Australian shares from your mobile or desktop.
Bendigo Invest Direct
$19.95
No
ASX shares, Global shares, Options trading, US shares, mFunds, ETFs, Warrants
Yes
Invest in Australian shares and access major international markets through a trusted local brand. Plus, fine tune your investment knowledge with Bendigo’s advanced research and analysis tools.
Interactive Brokers Australia
$5
$10 per month minimum
ASX shares, Global shares, Forex, CFDs, Margin trading, Options trading, US shares, mFunds, ETFs
Yes
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Compare up to 4 providers

Important: Share trading can be financially risky and the value of your investment can go down as well as up. Standard brokerage is the cost to purchase $1,000 or less of equities without any qualifications or special eligibility. Where both CHESS sponsored and custodian shares are offered, we display the cheapest option.

Disclaimer: This information should not be interpreted as an endorsement of futures, stocks, ETFs, CFDs, options or any specific provider, service or offering. It should not be relied upon as investment advice or construed as providing recommendations of any kind. Futures, stocks, ETFs and options trading involves substantial risk of loss and therefore are not appropriate for all investors. Trading CFDs and forex on leverage comes with a higher risk of losing money rapidly. Past performance is not an indication of future results. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before making any trades.

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