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Exploring the Spectrum: ESG Investing versus Impact Investing


ESG metrics provide investors with a framework to assess the sustainability and ethical standing of their investment portfolios.

Investing has traditionally been seen as driven solely by two dimensions: risk and financial returns. However, as the world grapples with pressing societal and environmental challenges, a new wave of value-driven investing has emerged, urging us to consider the impact of our financial choices. For example, research from FCA, the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK, shows that over 80% of consumers want their money to do good, as well as deliver a return. 

From the historical roots of ethical investing driven by religious beliefs* to the socially conscious movements of the 1960s and the more recent integration of ESG factors, the investment landscape has undergone a significant transformation. The focus has shifted from merely screening out harmful products to actively incorporating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations into investment decisions. This shift has given rise to Impact Investing, a realm that extends beyond ESG principles to actively pursue solutions to urgent societal or environmental challenges. 

In November 2023, various organizations, including the CFA Institute, presented a set of definitions that they wish to establish as industry standards, including meanings for terms like “screening,” “ESG integration,” “thematic investing,” “stewardship” and “impact investing”. In this article, we focus on the distinctions between ESG Investing and Impact Investing, exploring how these strategies contribute to positive change while catering to the diverse motivations of investors.

ESG Investing: Minimizing Negative Impact While Contributing to Positive Outcomes 

ESG practices have become a cornerstone of responsible investing, focusing on evaluating companies based on their environmental impact, social responsibility, and governance (ESG) practices. ESG metrics provide investors with a framework to assess the sustainability and ethical standing of their investment portfolios. The objective is to identify companies that align with specific ESG criteria, ensuring that investments contribute to positive societal and environmental outcomes while minimizing negative impacts. 

ESG investing, also known as ESG Integration, involves factoring in social, environmental, and governance risks into investment decisions. Investors in this category aim to protect value by avoiding companies with harmful practices. The focus is on transparency and risk mitigation, with various approaches such as negative screening to identify and exclude high-risk assets. 

According to Investment News, ESG is often equated by opponents with impact investing or socially responsible investing, rather than a means of assessing financially material risk and opportunity.

Impact Investing: Actively Pursuing Positive Change 

Impact Investing goes beyond ESG Investing by specifically targeting solutions to societal or environmental issues. Impact investors concentrate on making a positive social or environmental impact, with varied financial expectations. Some seek market-rate returns from businesses addressing critical issues, while others are open to below-market financial returns, prioritizing impact over profit. Impact Investing encompasses a spectrum, including social impact bonds and backing social business models with potential trade-offs between financial return and positive impact. 

The official definition by the CFA defines Impact Investing as “investing with the intention to generate a positive, measurable social and/or environmental impact alongside a financial return.” 

“Impact Investing really just means smart investing.”  James M. Donovan, CEO ADEC Innovations

Impact Investing incorporates Impact Measurement and Management (IMM) as a crucial component of its strategy.  

IMM is a comprehensive approach that not only considers environmental, social, and governance factors but actively seeks to measure and manage the positive and negative impacts of an investment. It involves setting specific goals for positive societal or environmental outcomes and systematically tracking and managing progress towards those goals throughout the investment lifecycle. Investors engaged in impact investing use IMM practices to assess, measure, and manage the social and environmental impact of their portfolios.  

“The Impact Measurement is as valuable as the Impact Investing, because if you don’t have the data to prove what you have done, you can’t scale it quickly up around the world. And the reality is: We need to scale up solutions faster than ever.”
James M. Donovan, CEO ADEC Innovations 

Investing with Intention: 

In the heart versus soul debate of ESG versus impact investing, the key lies in intentionality. ESG Investing is about mitigating risks and promoting responsible practices, while Impact investing is about actively pursuing positive change. It’s about choosing investments not just because they align with your values and reduce risk for your operations but because they actively contribute to a better world.  


How ADEC Innovations can help:  

ADEC Innovations offers a wide range of IMM services, from an ADEC Impact pulse check and Impact Analytics to Impact Reporting and Technology Consulting. If you want to know more, contact us. We will be happy to help you drive positive change for your business and the world.  

Get in touch:


author image
Silke Delpeuch

With 20+ years of international experience in branding, marketing and communications, Silke has spent the past six years with ESG solution providers, helping companies become more sustainable.  

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