According to a recent article on, a strategy called impact investing has significantly outperformed the returns of the broader financial markets over the past year. Increasingly in vogue in the philanthropy world, impact investing tries to produce profits by specifically considering environmental and social factors when choosing investments.

While the idea of socially responsible investing has been around for a while, the article mentions that this niche has grown significantly in recent years; it now totals more than $2.7 trillion in the U.S. Some of these investment opportunities exist only in private equity, but many are available to the average investor as well. Examples include microfinance and socially responsible investment funds; green energy companies like Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ:ESLR) and Suntech Power (NYSE:STP); and even well-known companies like Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), Whole Foods (NYSE:WFMI), and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) that espouse certain socially responsible values.

Along the same lines, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) recently rolled out a recycling program, after customers said that they preferred to do business with retailers that cared about their communities. The electronics retailer also recently audited its factories of suppliers to make sure they don't exploit workers or pollute the environment.

Now, the argument (if you want to call it that) against being socially responsible is that it's not an effective business strategy, and that business leaders shouldn't be wasting their time with that nonsense. In regards to investing, socially responsible strategies have a bad rap for generating less-than-stellar returns.

But some investors seem to think otherwise -- and some of them have turned their beliefs into profits. What do you think? Is impact investing the strategy of the future, or is it only for those who are willing to sacrifice superior returns?

Let us know what you think in the comments box below.

Claire Stephanic does not own any of the companies mentioned. Google and Suntech Power are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Best Buy, Starbucks, and Whole Foods Market are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Best Buy is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy and Starbucks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.