So you want to be a socially responsible investor. Good for you! There are thousands of public companies out there, and you can't invest in all of them (unless you opt for a broad-market index fund), so why not park your dollars in the firms with the best reputations?

Well, permit me to contradict myself for a moment now: There is a reason not to look only for socially responsible firms when you invest. That's because, in my opinion at least, when you invest you should first and foremost be looking for the best returns, asking yourself which stocks (or other investments) are most likely to give you the returns you seek.

Looking for leads
Once you've got a list of strong contenders, you might then consider how responsible each firm is. And remember that few firms are entirely clean. A firm might recycle, and hire minorities, and not pollute, but it might make fatty foods. It's a complex world.

Another approach is to find a group of generally socially responsible firms, and then select the most promising investments among them. To get some candidates for such a group, let's see which companies are being invested in by the managers of some socially responsible mutual funds.

The Winslow Green Growth Fund (FUND:WGGFX), for starters, recently had about 4.3% of its value in (NASDAQ:RATE) and 4% in Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ISIS). The Ariel Appreciation Fund (FUND:CAAPX) had 5.9% in Accenture (NYSE:ACN) and 4.8% in Pitney Bowes. The Calvert Large Cap Growth Fund (FUND:CLCIX) had 2.4% in Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV), 2.4% in Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY), and 2.3% in Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS). The Neuberger Berman Socially Responsive Fund (FUND:NBSRX) had 4.9% in Danaher and 4.5% in Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN).

Got the idea? Just look up a bunch of socially responsible funds and see which firms are in their portfolios, especially those they've got the most money in and those they've been buying recently. Don't blindly buy the firms without additional research, though. You might also consider just investing in a socially responsible mutual fund, as that will relieve you of having to make all the buying and selling decisions.

One way to find great mutual funds is via our Champion Funds newsletter, which delivers recommendations and updates each month. Together, the picks of our analyst Shannon Zimmerman have more than doubled the market's return (as of the last time I checked), gaining an average of 19% versus 11% in the same time period. He has even recommended one of the funds I listed above, and it's up more than 19% in about a year and a half since being recommended. Try the newsletter for free and you'll be able to see all his picks and how well they've done.

Learn much more in these Zimmerman articles:

And you can learn more about socially responsible investing in these articles:

Selena Maranjian 's favorite discussion boards include Book Club , The Eclectic Library , Television Banter and Card & Board Games . She owns shares of no company mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.