Ethics, ESG, and ERISA: Ethical-Factor Investing of Savings and Retirement Benefits - Part 1

47 Comp. Plan. J. 212 (Dec. 6, 2019)

11 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2019 Last revised: 4 Jan 2020

Date Written: December 6, 2019


Ethical-factor investing is investment decision-making that takes into account ethical factors. It includes faith-based investing, Environmental, Social or Governance (ESG) investing, and sustainable investing. It is becoming more and more widespread. This has occurred despite a lack of widely accepted definitions, performance metrics, or ethical preferences. There is increasing broad agreement that some ethical factors highlight business risks and opportunities in a predictable fashion, such as the effects of climate change, human capital needs, or corporate governance. Thus, more and more investors and enterprises are seeking to profit (including mitigating risks) from these factors in the same way they do from all business risks and opportunities. There are three prudent approaches to ethical-factor investing. The most widely used is the Incorporation approach. Such investing uses the value of doing the right thing to decide how to improve financial returns. Also, quite common is the Tie-Breaker approach. Such investing does the right thing if there no financial cost to doing so. Least common is the concessionary approach. Such investing does the right thing if it does not cost too much. Each of these approaches can be socially beneficial, i.e., improve the norms and behavior of enterprises in a cost effective manner. Investors can generate such benefits by funding enterprises with thinly traded securities whose preferred ethical-factor activities would not otherwise occur, or by participating in engagement campaigns to change the policies of widely traded securities in which they invest.

Keywords: ESG, sustainable investing, faith-based investing, responsible investing, socially beneficial investing, ethics, ethical-factor investing, ERISA, retirement plans, savings plans, corporate governance

JEL Classification: J32, K19, K22, K34, G11, G34

Suggested Citation

Feuer, Albert, Ethics, ESG, and ERISA: Ethical-Factor Investing of Savings and Retirement Benefits - Part 1 (December 6, 2019). 47 Comp. Plan. J. 212 (Dec. 6, 2019). Available at SSRN:

Albert Feuer (Contact Author)

Law Offices of Albert Feuer ( email )

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United States
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