Deconstructing ESG Scores: How to Invest with your own Criteria?


Torsten Ehlers ; Ulrike Elsenhuber ; Kumar Jegarasasingam ; Eric Jondeau

Publication Date:

March 10, 2023

Electronic Access:

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Disclaimer: IMF Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to encourage debate. The views expressed in IMF Working Papers are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board, or IMF management.


Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) scores are a key tool for asset managers in designing and implementing ESG investment strategies. They, however, amalgamate a broad range of fundamentally different factors, creating ambiguity for investors as to the underlying drivers of higher or lower ESG scores. We explore the feasibility and performance of more targeted investment strategies based on specific ESG categories, by deconstructing ESG scores into their granular components. First, we investigate the characteristics of the various categories underlying ESG scores. Not all types of ESG categories lend themselves to more focused strategies, which is related to both limits to ESG data disclosure and the fundamental challenge of translating qualitative characteristics into quantitative measures. Second, we consider an investment scheme based on the exclusion of firms with the lowest scores in a given category of interest. In most cases, this strategy allows investors to substantially improve the ESG category score, with a marginal impact on financial performance relative to a broad stock market benchmark. The exclusion results in regional and sectoral biases relative to the benchmark, which may be undesirable for some investors.We then implement a “best-in-class” strategy by excluding firms with the lowest category scores and reinvesting the proceeds in firms with the highest scores, maintaining the same regional and sectoral composition. This approach reduces the tracking error of the portfolio and slightly improves its risk-adjusted performance, while still yielding a large gain in the targeted ESG category score.


IMF Working Papers




Publication Date:

March 10, 2023



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