Counterproductive Sustainable Investing: The Impact Elasticity of Brown and Green Firms

Samuel M. Hartzmark, Kelly Shue

2022 | Academic | Carbon, Companies, Cost of Capital, Impact Investing, Sustainable Investing

We develop a new measure of impact elasticity, defined as a firm's change in environmental impact due to a change in its cost of capital. We show empirically that a reduction in financing costs for firms that are already green leads to small improvements in impact at best. In contrast, increasing financing costs for brown firms leads to large negative changes in firm impact. Thus, sustainable investing that directs capital away from brown firms and toward green firms may be counterproductive, in that it makes brown firms more brown without making green firms more green.