I was once part of a publishing company that thought ethical investing could make money.

We were wrong.

After about 18 months - and fairly significant financial losses - the company flicked off Ethical Investor magazine for next to nothing.

But it was a fun year and a half. Even though we all worked in the amoral side of the business, the Ethical Investor team would go drinking (responsibly) with us anyway.


Unfortunately, the economics of ethics, at least in monthly hard-copy magazine format, didn't stack up: not enough fund managers backed up their social responsibility patter with ad-spend.

Nevertheless, Ethical Investor continues online to this day, edited by the excellent Ross Kendall, who was there at the start. Recently taken over by fund manager, Australian Ethical Investment, the free subscription website now promises a "mobile optimised and advertisement free" experience.

Still no money in it, then.

However, the ethical investing industry, also known as socially-responsible investing (SRI) or ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing, has more content to offer than ever.

According to a new report from the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA), ethical investments increased by at least 13 per cent over the year to December 2013.

The study says Australian and New Zealand investors have put about $153 billion in 'broad responsible investment' strategies while a further $25 billion sits in 'core responsible investment' funds.

Read also:
Inside Money: Disclosure - as told by Jesus
Inside Money: Check the label - capitalists care too, maybe

Under the RIAA definitions, 'broad responsible investment' refers to "integration of ESG factors" into investing strategies while 'core' involves more active engagement with the market, such as screening out specific stocks.

Over the year to December 2013, 'core' responsible investing dropped in NZ from $22.3 billion to $1.6 billion. At the same time, the 'broad' measure rose from to $270 million to $25.4 billion.

The massive switch in emphasis was mainly due to the NZ Super Fund reclassifying its responsibility method as an "integration of ESG factors".

"This approach by NZ Super is reflective of a broader trend within the responsible investment market, to combine a number of approaches to responsible investment within a single fund," the RIAA report says.

NZ Super was also mostly responsible for the 20 per cent increase in ethically-invested Kiwi money over the period. At $27 billion, RIAA reckons ethical makes up a "very significant" 40 per cent of the total assets under management in New Zealand.

In spite of the do-gooder overlay, NZ Super's returns don't appear to have suffered, which the RIAA report says is true of ethical investing in general.

"Responsible investments are delivering not only great returns, but also positive impact through the investments themselves," the study says in a burst of optimism.