3. The sustainability practices of investors

The total assets under management by professional investors that consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) risk factors in portfolio selection and management has grown significantly in the last few years. While the definition of sustainable investment varies between countries and over time, Table ‎3.1 and Figure ‎3.1 provide an indicative snapshot of the growing global importance of sustainable investing assets.

Since most of the sustainable investing data rely on survey-based approaches, the large numbers above should be taken with caution because part of the value of sustainable investing assets may be attributed to asset managers who claim to adopt sustainable or ESG-conscious strategies but who do not necessarily contribute to more social and environmental sustainability. This could be either due to misleading investors when labelling a financial product (including the so-called “greenwashing”) or because the mandated goals of an investor are not aligned with what the best scientific evidence would recommend. In any circumstance, one fair conclusion can be extracted from the numbers above: asset owners such as pension funds and families have increasingly allocated their portfolios to investment vehicles that purport to be sustainable in Canada, the United States and Japan. In Europe, Australia and New Zealand, it is difficult to draw any conclusion on trends between 2016 and 2020 because of changes in the definition of sustainable investment during that period, but the proportion of sustainable investing assets reported relative to total managed assets was high (above 37%) in Europe, Australia and New Zealand in 2020 (GSI Alliance, 2021[1]).

A relatively small subset of the sustainable investing universe is composed of investment funds that label themselves as ESG or sustainable funds – for instance by including “ESG” or “sustainable investing” terms in their names. Focussing only on investment funds and benefiting from a different database than in Table ‎3.1, it is possible to identify a trend of strong growth in assets under management for these ESG funds1 that reached USD 1.7 trillion in 2021 (Figure ‎3.2, Panel A). This was mainly the result of the highest net inflow amounts in 2020 and 2021 with USD 241 billion and USD 586 billion, respectively. While the value of assets under management of climate funds was very modest between 2016 and 2019, during 2020 and 2021 climate funds received comparatively larger amounts of inflows than in previous years with net inflows six and 19 times that of the previous three years’ average (2017-19) inflow, respectively. In Brazil, asset under management of ESG funds saw a significant increase in 2021 when the total amount of funds reached to USD 2.4 billion (Figure ‎3.2, Panel B). Climate funds, however, represent a very small share of total ESG funds in Brazil.

While the numbers in the table above face the same challenges of categorisation previously mentioned, the following features of the current sustainable investing universe can still be identified:

  • the most significant strategy (with USD 25 trillion) focuses on the integration by asset managers of ESG factors into their financial analysis

  • strategies that often accept a tangible trade-off between wealth creation and better ESG results (“Impact/community investing”) currently add to USD 352 billion2 (only 1.4% when compared to the “ESG integration” strategy)

  • assets under management by investors who claim to employ shareholder power to influence corporate behaviour on ESG-related issues has reached a meaningful value of USD 10.5 trillion.

With respect to environmental factors related to climate change, the value of assets under management in the last item above might even be an underestimation, because some investors who do not have a clear sustainable investing mandate might be nonetheless concerned with their exposure to climate risk and willing to engage with corporates to reduce their risks. For instance, 615 investors (including from Brazil and other emerging markets) with USD 60 trillion in assets under management have so far joined the Climate Action 100+, which is an initiative to ensure the world’s largest corporate GHG emitters cut emissions to help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement (2015[2]). Currently, this initiative focuses on 167 companies representing more than 80% of global industrial emissions, including Petrobras, Suzano and Vale from Brazil.

There is no data for “sustainable investing assets” in Brazil, but a majority of asset managers investing in Brazil – and especially the larger ones – review the sustainability or ESG disclosure of their portfolio companies (see figure below).

Sustainable investing is a wide category that encompasses ESG issues of very different natures, from climate change to human rights. The relative importance of a number of ESG risks from the company perspective is discussed in this report but still from an investor point of view it is possible to see the current preferences of a sample of major global institutional investors in Figure ‎3.4 (investors not necessarily self-reported as “sustainable investors” with USD 29 trillion in assets under management). In this sample (with some overrepresentation of UK-based investors), it is clear that climate change and associated risks are the number one priority with respect to engagement with companies, followed by human capital management (a social issue), board composition and executive remuneration (governance issues).

Specifically among asset managers investing in Brazil, water and wastewater management, biodiversity and data security have recently been some of their key sustainability priorities (Table ‎3.3). While climate change and associated risks are not a top priority for surveyed asset managers investing in Brazil, this issue was still considered by a majority of managers when making investment decisions or engaging with companies in 2021.


[4] GIIN (2020), Annual Impact Investor Survey 2020, https://thegiin.org/research/publication/impinv-survey-2020.

[1] GSI Alliance, G. (2021), Global Sustainable Investment Review 2020, http://www.gsi-alliance.org/.

[3] Morrow Sodali (2021), Institutional Investor Survey 2021, https://morrowsodali.com/insights/institutional-investor-survey-2021.

[2] UNFCCC (2015), The Paris Agreement, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf.


← 1. Funds retrieved from the Reuters Funds Screen were classified as Climate Funds or ESG Funds in the case their names contain, respectively, climate or ESG relevant acronyms and words such as ESG, sustainable, responsible, ethical, green and climate (and their translation in other languages).

← 2. According to another estimate, the impact investing market size worldwide (including Brazil and other emerging markets) would be equal to USD 715 billion as of the end of 2019 (GIIN, 2020[4]).

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