As we swelter in the summer heat, it is hard not to wonder whether we are witnessing Britain's climate of the future. But as fears of global warming affect our enjoyment of the sun, at least eco-friendly investors have a new way of helping to force a greener agenda.
Last month an environmental research firm called Trucost released the first "carbon footprint" ranking of a selection of 44 UK unit and investment trusts - enabling investors to compare funds on an environmental basis.
By calculating the greenhouse gas emissions of all UK companies, Trucost is able to look at the various stocks held in a fund and then work out the carbon dioxide levels attribut- able to it. The footprint of the fund is then expressed in terms of how much CO 2 is emitted for each £1m invested.
Schroder UK Alpha Plus, for example, which is ranked 10th in the table, has a carbon footprint of 889 - meaning it produces 889 tons of CO 2 per million pounds invested.
Trucost's chief executive, Simon Thomas, says: "The average carbon intensity of the funds in the study is 1,056 tons per million pounds - which translates to around 10 tons per annum per £10,000 invested. If an investor with £10,000 switched from the poorest to the best-performing fund in the study, he could cut emissions by 14 tons per year - over double the CO 2 emission of the average UK household."
There are a number of important findings in Trucost's survey. First, there is a huge difference in the performance of the best and worst funds. Topping the table is Scottish Widows Investment Partnership UK & Income - Environmental Investor, with a footprint of 337. AXA's UK Equity Income fund languishes at the bottom of the table, with a footprint of 1,719. And although there are four socially responsible investment (SRI) funds in the top five, traditional "ethical" funds do not necessarily perform well. F&C Stewardship Growth, for example, comes fifth with a carbon footprint of 694, but another ethical fund from the same stable - F&C Stewardship Income - is 38th with a footprint of 1,343. "Investors should look at what their fund managers actually do with respect to the environment," says Mr Thomas - "not what they say."
By the same token, you don't have to pick "green" funds to limit carbon output. Many mainstream funds, including Lazard UK Alpha, Aberforth Smaller Companies and Equator UK Equity, are ranked in the top 15.
Perhaps most importantly, Trucost's analysis reveals that there is no gain to be made in financial performance by ignoring environmental concerns.
Its research found that funds invested in firms with relatively high carbon intensities did not produce better financial returns than those invested in companies with low emissions.
At present, with a selection of just 44 , the list is far from comprehensive. But the firm says it will be carrying out the rankings every six months - and is looking to expand its coverage. This is good news for UK investors, who are putting more of their money into "green" funds than ever before - over £6bn by December 2005, says the Ethical Investment Research Service (Eiris). That compares to £1.5bn in 1997.
Ted Scott, manager of the F&C Stewardship Growth and Income funds, says: "When we launched our first ethical fund in 1984, some City commentators said we would be lucky to attract £1m from investors. How wrong they were."
Stockbroker Brewin Dolphin confirms this trend. Its latest research shows more than three million people are considering investing in an ethical stock or fund over the next 12 months.
That said, there is a big gap between good intentions and action. Julia Dreblow, SRI marketing manager at Friends Provident, says there are still only half a million ethical investors in the UK. She also points out that carbon emissions aren't their main worry. "Last summer we carried out research, asking investors to list their primary ethical concerns. Armaments came top, tobacco firms have a terrible reputation and pursuits such as gambling remain a concern."
In its latest report, "Lasting Lifestyles", Friends Provident says that although a quarter of people are still prepared to invest in a pension fund that will deliver them the best possible return - no matter how this is achieved - 16 per cent want both ethical values and returns.
Other findings show that more than one in 10 savers now rank ethical considerations higher than investing with a provider whose name they know and trust.
"People are looking to do their bit for society," says Ms Dreblow. "And for those who are already buying organic and recycling regularly, the next logical step is to look at the impact their investments could have."Reuse content