It's not easy being a green investor

Rows of wind turbines at the Altamont Pass wind farm in Livermore, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Don't know about you, but I paid $3.35 at the pump this week and there's talk we could hit $4 a gallon as early as this spring.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House approved $18 billion worth of new taxes on big oil companies with the money slated to go toward tax breaks for alternative energy sources. The president has said he'll veto it if it gets to his desk.

A lot of folks are trying to do their part with so-called "green investing." Just a couple of years ago, eco-friendly funds were virtually non-existent. Now there are more than two dozen.

But as Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, these investments come in different shades of green.


Sarah Gardner: Cliff Feigenbaum was green before green was cool. He founded the "Green Money Journal" in 1992, so now he's reveling in eco-investing's new status:

Cliff Feigenbaum: And to have Fortune magazine last spring say that "Green is Good." We weren't sure that would ever happen.

But Feigenbaum warns funds use different environmental screens and criteria when picking their investments, so for purists, some funds may not be green enough.

Erin Gray heads up marketing for Green Century Capital Management. The firm's "Green Century Equity Fund" includes household names like Procter and Gamble, Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson.

Erin Gray: Johnson and Johnson is a great example. They are one of the largest corporate purchasers of alternative energy.

Gray says that Johnson & Johnson may not be perfect, but it's headed in the right environmental direction. Green Century also screens companies for recycling, toxic emissions and energy use.

Other green funds focus strictly on companies selling solutions to climate change. Calvert's new "Global Alternative Energy Fund" invests in wind and solar companies, among others, but this green fund also includes companies that own nuclear plants.

Calvert's Paul Hilton says that's been controversial, but he says many utilities on the leading edge of solar and wind, like Florida Power and Light, sell nuclear power too:

Paul Hilton: So what we did is we said this: if a company really is a leader for alternative energy and is doing the right things, we will still allow a company to have a legacy plant as long as there are no plans to build future nuclear power plants.

Hilton and others in this field says investors who want to do right by the planet can hire a financial advisor to help them or they can do their own homework. Read the funds' annual reports, their websites and dig around the Internet, they say. Websites like CleanEdge.com or socialinvest.org can help and they warn that often the narrower the fund, the more risk involved.

Julie Gorte: There's always market corrections, especially if people get too giddy about any particular sector and that could happen in alternative energy.

That's Julie Gorte, a V.P. at Pax World Management. She says some analysts liken the renewable energy hoopla to the Internet bubble of the 90's. She also reminds investors that not all green funds use traditional social screens like labor conditions or fair wages. If you care about the who, where and how of those solar panels you've invested in, you'll need to do more legwork.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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