What are green investments?

Green investments are traditional investment vehicles (such as stocks, exchange-traded funds and mutual funds) in which the underlying business(es) are somehow involved in operations aimed at improving the environment. This can range from companies that are developing alternative energy technology to companies that have the best environmental practices.

For the stock savvy, there are many pure-play, leading edge green companies that are traded on the major stock exchanges. These include startups that are developing new methods for creating biofuels or solar panels, and traditional market cap heavyweights that are expanding their product lines to include environmentally friendly products (such as General Electric's development of wind-powered electric generators). (To learn more, read Go Green With Socially Responsible Investing.)

Green investing can also be achieved through exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which mimic the stock indexes made up of green companies. Mutual funds can be another alternative, in which case a professional portfolio manager makes the green asset allocation decisions based on the fund's prospectus.

Unfortunately, because individual beliefs on what constitutes a "green investment" vary, exactly what qualifies as a green investment is a bit of a gray area. Purchasing stock in a business that is an industry leader in terms of employing environmentally conscious businesses practices in a traditionally "ungreen" industry may be considered a green investment for some, but not for others. For example, consider an oil company that has the best record for environmental practices. While it is environmentally sound that the company is making the best precautions in preventing any direct damage to the environment through its day-to-day operations of drilling for oil, some people may object to purchasing its stock as a green investment, because burning fossil fuels is the leading contributor of global warming.

Therefore, prospective green investors should research their investments (by checking out a green fund's prospectus or a stock's annual filings) to see if an investment includes the types of companies that fit their personal definition of "green".

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