Affluent investors tend to be skeptical of companies that proclaim they have a socially responsible strategy, wondering whether this is simply a public relations gimmick.

A new Spectrem Group survey polled investors with net worth between $1 million and $5 million, not including primary residence, and found that 31% considered social responsibility when investing.

Among respondents in that income group who did not consider social responsibility in their investments, 49% said they felt most companies claiming socially responsible corporate behavior did so simply for public relations purposes.

Only 19% of very wealthy respondents with a net worth between $5 million and $25 million, not including primary residence, considered the social responsibility of investments, and were similarly cynical about companies that claimed social responsibility.

Socially responsible investing encompasses an estimated $3 trillion out of $25 trillion in the U.S. investment marketplace, according to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.

A separate Spectrem study found that 85% of affluent investors regarded socially responsible investing as investing in environmentally friendly investments or companies, while nearly two-thirds of respondents considered it to be investing in companies that support a specific social cause.

Other respondents focused on the kinds of companies whose products or practices they would not want to encourage.

In the new survey, age made a difference in respondents’ willingness to consider socially responsible behavior of companies in which they invested.

Forty-one percent of investors in the $1 million-to-$5 million group under 45 and 35% of their richer counterparts age 46 and younger considered social responsibility when investing.

The question for these younger investors, then, is how to know when a company is behaving in a socially responsible way.

Spectrem noted in a statement accompanying the survey results that the nonprofit B Lab issues certification for companies — called B corporations — that meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards. Certified B corps also must meet legal accountability standards.

Created in 2007, B Lab is funded by private, corporate and governmental entities such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Deloitte, the Prudential Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The organizers compare Certified B status to a LEED certification for green buildings, according to the B Lab website.

Some 800 companies across 60 industries in 27 countries have received B corp certifications.

Companies are required to take a survey of their socially responsible practices, and certification can cost between $500 and $25,000 depending on the size of the company.

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