More recently, even large pension funds have banded together to pressure industries into fundamental changes. For instance, some large state pensions have dropped coal and energy companies in favor of more environmentally friendly investments. Pension funds have also pushed for changes in boardrooms and targeted governance problems in individual companies.

However, in the short-term, some observers may argue that companies could be intentionally setting input costs higher or incur a large upfront cost. For instance, some companies may acquire ingredients that have been Fairtrade certified, which provides farmers in emerging countries above-market prices to promote improved standard of living. Nevertheless, many consumers are willing to pay more for the products to feel better about the way a product was made.

Investors can target companies with a socially responsible mindset through ETFs, including the iShares MSCI USA ESG Select Social Index Fund (NYSEArca: KLD) and iShares MSCI KLD 400 Social ETF (NYSEArca: DSI), which provide broad exposure to companies with socially responsible characteristics.

KLD and DSI both include stocks with strong environmental, social, and governance records in areas that are relevant to their industries, including carbon emissions, labor management and corporate governance. KLD, though, excludes companies operating in the weapons, alcohol, gambling, nuclear power, adult entertainment and genetically modified organisms industries.

Retail investors interested in ESG investments can also look at the SPDR MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target ETF (NYSEArca: LOWC) and the iShares MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target ETF (NYSEArca: CRBN) for more socially responsible strategies. LOWC and CRBN both target the MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target Index, which tries to address carbon exposure by overweighting companies with low carbon emissions relative to sales and per dollar of market capitalization, compared to the broader market. Both ETFs were created for the U.N. Joint Staff Pension Fund.

Fund providers have recently rolled out a number of ESG-based ETF strategies. For example, the iShares MSCI EAFE ESG Select ETF (NasdaqGM: ESGD) and iShares MSCI EM ESG Select ETF (NasdaqGM: ESGE), which track developed and emerging market companies with high ESG ratings, began trading at the end of June.

SEE MORE: Environmental, Social and Governance ETF Investing Goes Global

The Global X Conscious Companies ETF (NasdaqGM: KRMA) tries to reflect the performance of the Concinnity Conscious Companies Index, which tracks companies that achieve financial performance in a sustainable and responsible manner and exhibit positive ESG characteristics.

Joining the new wave of ETF products based on ESG principles, FlexShares launched the FlexShares STOXX US ESG Impact Index Fund (NasdaqGM: ESG) and FlexShares STOXX Global ESG Impact Index Fund (NasdaqGM: ESGG). The funds are based on the STOXX global ESG Impact Index, which screens companies scoring better with respect to a select set of ESG key performance indicators (KPIs), with the bottom 50% of such companies based on their ESG KPI scores are excluded from the Index, as are companies that do not adhere to the UN Global compact principles, are involved in controversial weapons or are coal miners.

For more information on index-based ETFs, visit our indexing category.

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters!
Please enter your email address to subscribe to ETF Trends' newsletters featuring latest news and educational events.