Socially responsible investing (SRI) is gaining some Street cred. The rising evidence that social repsonsibility and impressive investing returns aren't as incompatible as they previously seemed is good news for SRI investors. But there's still plenty more the SRI movement can do to create a better world.

This past summer, longtime Fool Selena Maranjian covered a Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) report revealing that the companies it tracks that are strong on environment, social, and governance (ESG) metrics outperformed the MSCI, an index of world stocks, by 25%. Among that pool, 72% outperformed peers in their respective industries, too. The report did note that the SRI and ESG metrics didn't prove added value on a stand-alone basis, and Goldman incorporated its own long-term industry analysis and returns-based analysis to bring about the impressive returns. Still, I'd say the emphasis on these metrics as a competitive advantage represents a real victory for the SRI-minded investor.

The Goldman report revealed its own index of companies, dubbed the "GS SUSTAIN" focus list, with companies hand-picked for their focus on ESG factors. Giants like Merck (NYSE:MRK), Kellogg (NYSE:K), and PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) may not spring to mind as granola-crunchy companies -- okay, maybe Kellogg, given its breakfast cereals -- but all three made the list.

Goldman Sachs' findings reinforced the thesis that drives many SRI-friendly investors: Companies that focus on these factors can have a real sustainable competitive advantage, reinforcing their long-term strength.

Getting back to basics
For our future citizens to be entrepreneurs, investors, productive employees, or simply good financial housekeepers, they need to be financially literate in the first place. Many young people go out into the world without a firm grasp on the fundamental skills needed to make the most rudimentary financial decisions. That's not good for any of us over the long term.

A recent Washington Post article described the increasing rarity of "checkbook math," or consumer math, in D.C.-area schools. While parents and politicians see its usefulness, it's often taught in a piecemeal fashion. Such classes may be perceived as "easier" -- and therefore less impressive than algebra or calculus on the transcripts of the college-bound -- even though basic financial literacy is one of the most useful skills for real life. Just for starters, take the prevalence of low savings rates and very high credit card debt. Apparently, many people needed to learn why living above their means, and borrowing at high rates of interest, would hinder their financial futures. Where's the long-term thinking in that?

That's where The Motley Fool's charitable Foolanthropy program comes in. This year, we're more closely aligning Foolanthropy to the mission of spreading financial literacy. We've decided to aim very high indeed: Over the long term, we want to help every young person in the world receive a basic financial education. That's a Foolish dream -- and the picture of sustainability, too.

Five for thought
Take one of the five organizations that Fools have chosen to represent Foolanthropy this year -- Share Our Strength's Operation Frontline program. This program attempts to ensure that no child goes hungry -- but it's not just donating money or food. Its courses aim to teach families how to use their limited financial resources to the greatest benefit.

Many companies and organizations have partnered with Share Our Strength, including Timberland (NYSE:TBL), Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI), Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN), and Food Network, and of course, these companies are fulfilling the "social" factor outlined above. Obviously, we can all help organizations like this one do more and more good for the community at large.  

Socially responsible initiatives of all kinds emphasize long-term sustainability. Supporting an organization like Share Our Strength pays long-term dividends, because more children will grow up both well-fed and well-informed. We'll all benefit from a younger generation that's schooled in how to be financially savvy and secure.

If such long-term thinking appeals to you, please consider making a donation to Share Our Strength -- or check out the other four organizations highlighted by Foolanthropy in 2007, to see whether another more closely aligns with your own ideal. You'll help us build a far more sustainable future, with many more options and opportunities for today's youth. Also, bear in mind that during the month of December, the Fool's running a "My Two Cents Campaign," through which it will donate $0.02 to Foolanthropy charities for each post Fools make to our discussion boards or to Motley Fool CAPS.

Even if SRI isn't your thing, take a minute to ponder the long-term sustainable advantages a successful push for pervasive financial literacy could provide to our country and our economy. It's all about the promise of the future, and we can all do our part to help. Click here for more on Foolanthropy.

Whole Foods Market is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Whole Foods Market. The Fool has a disclosure policy.