A new survey of financial professionals finds 2013 will be the "year of impact investing."  

A First Affirmative Financial Network survey of socially responsible investment professionals shows the number one expected growth area over the next 12 months is impact investing.

In this case, impact investing is broadly defined as encompassing a range of approaches-including microfinance and private equity in developing markets-that allow institutions and individual investors to get involved in solving specific social and environmental problems while also generating a return, according to First Affirmative. "In some cases, impact investing is designed to achieve market returns; in other cases, a portion of the returns is devoted to achieving a greater social impact."

The first annual survey comes a month ahead of the 2012 SRI Conference, formerly known as SRI in the Rockies.

The survey also found:

More than three out of five respondents (62 percent) expect "institutional investor acceptance of SRI/ESG to improve in the next 12 months."

What will it take to get wider institutional acceptance of SRI?  The top three responses are: "increased emphasis on impact investing for institutions that have 'making a difference' as part of their mission" (47 percent); improved performance (43 percent); and "increased emphasis on community investing" (35 percent).

More than three out of four respondents (78 percent) say "SRI is growing and will continue to do so."  Only 8 percent say SRI is "headed for a leveling off or a slowdown."

"After the recent financial crisis, more and more investors have hungered for a way to have a more direct connection between their money and the impact it is having in the world. This survey shows that the sustainable, responsible, impact investment industry is innovative and vibrant-as vital for institutions and individual investors today as it was decades ago during the fight against apartheid. Impact investing is the latest way that investment professionals who work with socially conscious investors are helping to deliver positive returns as well as positive change-for the common good," said First Affirmative President Steve Schueth.

With so much acrimony in the air affecting politics and finance, let's hope for a change in 2012. Impact investing can point the way to doing well and doing good, with positive returns for us all.