Saving green while going green: The role of expenses in socially responsible equity mutual fund selection


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine the operating characteristics as well as risk and performance measures of all available self-proclaimed socially responsible funds (hereafter SRFs) in the USA over the ten-year (2007–2016) period. The first research question addressed is: Do SRFs perform as well as the average of all mutual funds in their respective categories? The second research question addressed is: Are SRF expense ratios correlated with fund performance?

Design/methodology/approach: This study analyzes all socially responsible equity mutual funds, as self-reported to Morningstar. This paper empirically compares operating characteristics and performance measures of SRFs relative to category averages in the US mutual fund industry. Operating characteristics include expense ratios and annual turnover rates. Performance measures include conventional return, risk and risk-adjusted return measures.

Findings: Although prior research suggests that socially responsible investing (SRI) indexes and SRI-friendly stocks have favorable returns, this study finds that these self-proclaimed SRFs underperform the average of all mutual funds in matched equity categories. However, this study demonstrates that a simple filter based on expense ratios can identify those SRFs that will enable investors to do quite well while doing good.

Originality/value: The contribution of this paper is twofold. First, the authors report that self-proclaimed SRFs, as a whole, have not generated competitive returns relative to other mutual funds in the same categories over the past ten years. This result contradicts the notion that socially responsible investors do not give up return performance when investing with their conscience. Second, the authors find that those SRFs with expense ratios in the lowest quartile of their respective category have significantly higher risk-adjusted returns and significantly lower turnover than category averages. Thus, by focusing on SRFs with low-expense ratios, socially responsible investors can do quite well while doing good.


Finance and General Business

Document Type





Expense ratios, Investments, Performance evaluation, Socially responsible mutual funds

Publication Date


Journal Title

Managerial Finance