Investment alternatives to high ESG

In this somewhat clickbaity video Ben Felix argues that ESG investing does not have any effect. And if it had, it would be the opposite of what was intended:

From my point of view there are 2 things:

  1. There is opportunistic capital trying to maximize returns acting as a buffer. High ESG companies don’t become less profitable (by having a higher and higher price), because opportunistic capital is leaving for low ESG companies (which therefore also do not get more profitable). This arbitrage can work even after opportunistic capital has reduced their positions to zero, because they can still go short (leveraged if profitable).

  2. High ESG investing is supposed to work by depriving the worst companies of capital. If it worked, this increased stress would prevent those companies to invest in reducing their damaging impact. If they could get capital by becoming high ESG companies that would of course create pressure to do so, but likely their whole industry is inherently low ESG.

To bypass those two points: Wouldn’t it be better to invest in those low ESG companies to get a seat on the board and continuously push for all the low cost high impact measures (and have the other shareholders help paying)? I don’t know, but maybe:

  • Install some filters

  • Disseminate safety guidance to workers

  • Buy from higher ESG suppliers first (potentially has the same problem)

  • Use your measures as proof of feasibility to demand regulations forcing your competitors to do the same.

Many of those measures could be somewhat difficult / costly to roll back, so your capital can potentiate its effect by hopping between companies.

A single smalltime investor isn’t enough, but there must be funds? I just can’t find them. Probably using the wrong search terms.

You’re too harsh.

I’ve mentioned this before on some other thread. Tangible ESG effects are:

  • fund managers can charge higher fees for funds with an ESG label* on it and buyers of ESG funds are willing to pay for it for a better conscience** or whatever their motivation is.
    I am observing this first hand.

  • ESG concious companies employ financial “engineers” and consult investment bankers who get busy by spinning out ESG score lowering parts of companies to keep the remaining company included in indexes and ESG conscious funds.
    The spun out low ESG score companies of course continue to exist and do business as before, but without any ambition of being scooped up by ESG minded investors, including funds and indices.***

If this sounds sarcastic, it probably is. In my personal opinion, it’s very close to the truth.

Don’t get me wrong, though: the intention of mandating ESG sounds great, but how to implement?
In Charlie Munger’s words: “Show me the incentives, and I’ll show you the outcome.”

* The underlying issue is a lack of standardization. The asset managers “doing ESG” do need to have some methodology how they measure ESG (to avoid being called out as greenwashers), but the nature of the “ESG label” is defined by the asset manager.
If the defined approach is data driven, the entire chain in the finance industry participates in the higher fees paid by the customer: the ESG data providers charge the asset managers for their data, etc, etc.
Standardizing ESG, however, would only adapt the incentives … and outcomes would adapt accordingly.

** This was already a financial instrument used e.g. by the catholic church via Ablasshandel.

*** I can even see the original company’s treasury investing part of their cash into the split off “ESG dirty” company. Depending on sizing and disclosure requirements this wouldn’t make it into publicly stated filings and would not transpire into negatively affecting the ESG score of the original company.


This essentially happened with a company I know pretty well. And after having been spun out, the stock returned more than double the old parent company in a year. First it dropped quite a bit after being thrown out by all the ESG funds, but quickly regained it.

ESG is one of the most usless and arbitrary things there is in investing imo. It’s also way more popular in europe than in the US.


I’d go further : ESG helped me a lot as a stock picker, just as the total opposite way of what it was meant to do initially (who said “law of unintended consequences”?)

My favorite example is coal.
ESG has labeled coal dirty and uninvestable, and starved the coal mining industry of capital over the last 15 years. Many coal miners could not refinance their debt and went bankrupt because no banker wanted to be seen lending money to such a dirty industry.

As a result, the coal mining supply shrank significantly until only the players with the strongest balance sheet would remain.

What ESG forgot is that coal is not only needed for thermal uses. Even more importantly, you need coal to make steal and cement (this kind of coal is called metallurgical coal, or met coal). In other words, if you want to get your civilization going, you need coal, and the demand is not going to disappear the way supply did.

As a result, the met coal industry has been a great performer over the last years. One of them, Alpha Metallurgical Resources ($AMR) must be the best performing stock in America since 2020 (Stock price in March 2020 : $2.50 - stock price now: $340 (a cool 136x in 4 years). Too bad I only realized it when the stock was already at $150.

Long story short: ESG has the opposite effect of what it set out to do, and looking for industries that have been starved out of capital for non-economical factors like ESG is often a good playground to achieve superior returns.


It’s a simple fact of capitalism, seen in China, that modernising production methods to improve efficiency and productivity is inherently cleaner than older methods. Still not ESG.

I am not a stockpicker but cringe whenever I see ESG similar to what @Julianek said. My last employer wanted to get an ESG label which meant wasting tons of time and money running surveys asking us where we got our lunch, how we made it to the office, if our kitchen utensils are made of metal or not and other such bullshit. Also a strong drive towards banging us on the head about diversity and inclusion, full of toxic positivity. I almost considered flagging that as an introvert all these ankylotic smiles were distressful for me. Where’s my diversity and inclusion?!

Statistically I have 40 odd years left on this planet, 20 decent to good ones while there’s still lead in my pencil, other my kids I have minimal care about much else.