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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

22 October 2019 – This study, commissioned by the Investment Leaders Group (ILG), provides insight into how decision-making behavior is influenced by the availability of information on the environmental and social impact of funds alongside standard financial data.

Download the report here

While the financial performance of funds is readily accessible to the public, their social and environmental impact remains largely opaque, making it difficult for savers to discriminate good sustainability performance.

This innovative study: Walking the Talk: understanding consumer appetite for sustainable investing involved a virtual investment experiment (VIE) designed to simulate real investment choices to help understand the extent to which savers value sustainability. It was undertaken in collaboration with Cambridge academics from the University’s Psychometrics Centre and the Department of Psychology.

The study analysed the decision-making of individual savers by inviting them to choose between pairs of differently specified funds. In order to simulate real-world investment experiences, the fund information presented to participants followed a typical fact sheet format with one exception: the addition of sustainability information. The sustainability information was based on the Sustainable Investment Framework – a set of six open-source metrics which investors can use as proxies for their progress towards the SDGs, which was developed by CISL for the Investment Leaders Group.

 Proportion of participants choosing the more sustainable fund as its past returns are varied between zero and three per cent lower than the alternative fund (the y-axis represents the proportion of people choosing the sustainable fund option and

The study fills a large research gap; all other such studies to date have been based on self-reported investment intentions, rather than indicating how people behave when they are investing their own money. In order to incentivise real investment behaviour, participants were informed that they had a chance of receiving a significant investment in one of the funds they selected.              

The study demonstrates that public interest in sustainability does influence investment preferences when suitable information is provided.

The long-term vision of this work is to enable a shift in investment choice, wherein social and environmental impact is transparent to investment beneficiaries in the same way that it is apparent to food and energy consumers today.

Citing this study

Please refer to this study as: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (2019). Walking the talk: Understanding consumer demand for sustainable investing. Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.


 Download the study here and access more research from the ILG.


Published: October 2019

Author and acknowledgements

This research was led by a University of Cambridge team comprising Dr David Stillwell, Academic Director of the Psychometrics Centre and Lecturer in big data analytics and quantitative social science at Judge Business School, Dr William Skylark, Senior Lecturer in human judgement and decision-making in the Department of Psychology, Dr Myrto Pantazi, Research Associate in the Department of Psychology, and Dr Jake Reynolds, Faty Dembele, Dr Ellen Quigley, Kajetan Czyz, Dr Nina Seega and Colette Bassford from CISL.

We are very grateful to the members of the Investment Leaders Group (ILG) for feedback and comment throughout the project. In particular, we would like to thank Aegon Asset Management, First State Investments and Zurich Insurance Group.


Copyright © 2019 University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Some rights reserved.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of their companies, CISL, the wider University of Cambridge or clients.