As concerns about scarcity and inequality become increasingly urgent, many investors are eager to generate both business and social returns—to “do well by doing good.” One avenue is impact investing: directing capital to ventures that are expected to yield social and environmental benefits as well as profits. But there’s a problem: Although the business world has several universally. accepted tools, such as the internal rate of return, for estimating a potential investment’s financial yields, no analogue exists for evaluating hoped-for social and environmental rewards in dollar terms. Forecasting gains is too often a matter of guesswork.
Investors hoping to use a company’s track record on social and environmental impact to assess future opportunities will similarly find little useful data to evaluate. The reporting of environmental, social, and governance issues is now standard practice at nearly three-quarters of the world’s large and mid-cap companies, but it is usually confined to information about commitments and process and rarely scores actual impact on customers or society.