Investments that seek to improve society and hold businesses to high standards of conduct are becoming a growing force in the United States. These socially responsible investments — also known as environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investments — reached $8.9 billion in the first half of 2019, surpassing the 2018 total. ESG investing is especially popular with Millennials worried about climate change and companies' treatment of workers. But critics say the term is hard to define and that its potential to revolutionize the financial services market is overblown. They also argue businesses' primary role is to make money for shareholders, and that building profitable companies ultimately benefits society. Still, ESG investing is gaining favor with socially conscious investors and with companies that believe corporations ...

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