Editor's note: The original version of this article erroneously attributed a load to the Domini Social Index Fund. The author regrets the error.
John suggests that your portfolio's results won't suffer if you choose to go SRI. As I showed in my argument, however, that's not entirely true. The research I've seen says these funds' returns aren't far off other funds, to which I respond, "Big deal. The vast majority of those underperform the market averages!"
If there are a lot of world-beaters out there among the SRI funds, I haven't seen them. (And if you've got candidates, send them my way. I will share them with readers.)
The Domini Social Equity Fund, based on the index John mentioned, is one of the outliers in this regard, with a 20-percentage-point return lead over the S&P 500 over 20 years or so. So that is a start. But good luck finding out what's all in there. I spent a loooong time looking for the companies and came up with zilch before a Fool reader pointed me to the right spot. (You can extract the data from the Securities and Exchange Commission website, but that takes a bit more work.)
And while this fund claims to select companies based on criteria such as good corporate behavior, I know there are folks out there who would consider some of the companies it holds, like accounting-scandal-plagued AIG
And the more I look at some of these funds, the more I see the same kind of shenanigans I expect from the fund industry. I'm talking about you, Sierra Club. This particular fund used to juice its returns by comparing to a bogus benchmark: the S&P 500 without the dividends. It still keeps this one on its fact sheet. Moreover, it notes -- in a nice, small footnote -- that it's only been operating by the Sierra Club's guidelines since 2003, while it reports returns from the period five years prior. At least the Sierra Club Stock Fund
In the end, my position remains the same. Socially responsible investing through funds is a crapshoot -- just like investing in mutual funds in general. It may not be good investing, and it may not rise to your standards of social responsibility. It's an easy answer designed so that the fund industry has yet another way to profit -- this time from the inherent feelings of guilt that some investors face.
If you must invest in a way that keeps your conscience clear, you're better off doing the homework yourself.
Wait! You're not done. This is just a quarter of the Duel! Don't miss the Bull and Bear opening arguments and the Bull rebuttal. Even when you're done, you're still not done. You can vote and let us know who you think won this Duel.
Seth Jayson holds funds only when he's forced to by retirement plans. At the time of publication, he owned shares of Microsoft, an Inside Value stock pick. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here . Fool rules are here .