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By Julia Glum
October 12, 2021
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with wind mills and plants in the background
Money; Getty Images

Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have become the ultimate influencers since leaving the British royal family early last year. They've inked deals with Netflix, teamed up with Spotify and were featured in an explosive Oprah Winfrey interview.

Now, the famous couple is weighing in on your investment portfolio.

The New York Times' Dealbook newsletter reported exclusively Tuesday that Harry and Meghan have invested in and become "impact partners" with a financial technology firm called Ethic. Started in 2015, Ethic promotes sustainable investing.

"My husband has been saying for years, 'Gosh, don’t you wish there was a place where if your values were aligned like this, you could put your money to that same sort of thing?'" Meghan told Dealbook.

The duo isn't just talking the talk, either. In addition to promoting Ethic's mission, especially to young investors, a post on its website claims the Sussexes "have investments managed by Ethic."

"They want to shine a light on how we can all impact the causes that affect our communities, bring transparency into how the corporate world sets the tone and shapes outcomes for everyday families, and believe that more people should have a seat at the table when it comes to making progress," Ethic added.

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What is ESG investing?

Experts in the space are likely hoping Harry and Meghan's support will help environmental, social and governance — or ESG — investing gain more traction. According to US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, ESG assets saw a 42% increase between the beginning of 2018 and the beginning of 2020, amounting to $17 trillion.

But it's trickier, and more controversial, than it may sound.

The first issue: Although ESG investing may sound like a nice way to use your money, there's a lot of debate over whether the funds promoting it are actually as ethically legit as they claim.

Money has previously reported about how nobody can agree on which data points should be used to judge how a company performs in ESG. The SEC is working on it, but in the meantime, many ratings focus less on corporate responsibility through an ESG lens and more on how exposed a firm is to ESG-type factors, as Hans Taparia, a professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, wrote in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

"For example, a company could be a significant source of emissions but still get a decent ESG score, if the ratings firm sees the pollutive behavior as being managed well or as non-threatening to the company’s financial value," Taparia added.

Some firms may also view it as nothing but a woke marketing strategy.

“What you get is an industry that knows if they put ‘ESG’ or ‘green’ on something, they can make a lot more money out of it,” Tariq Fancy, former chief investment officer for sustainable investing at BlackRock, told Vox.

Finally, there are questions about ESG's true impact. A September survey from governance think tank OCEG found that over half of 530 executives had minimal or no confidence in the reliability and maturity of their ESG programs.

It's hard to pinpoint how much ESG makes a difference on a more practical scale, as well. After all, a small-time investor who pulls out of an evil megacorp can only do so much damage when there larger, wealthier power players involved.

How to be a sustainable investor

Still want to take the ESG approach?

Green tech stocks are probably already a part of your portfolio if you invest in broad index funds. You can also look into options like the First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund or check out makers of electric cars and batteries.

When considering ESG, Money recommends you cut through the PR talk, look at the fees, understand the scope of the strategy, check out targeted funds and use tools to determine exactly where your dollars are going.

Harry and Meghan mean well, but you've still got to do your homework.

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