ESG investing has grown dramatically during the last four years and could get an even greater boost if Joe Biden is elected president, said four panelists who discussed environmental, social and good governance investing yesterday.

“Given Mr. Trump’s perceived views on the environment, one would expect ESG portfolios to have gone down in the last four years, but that has not happened,” said Marc-Olivier Buffle, senior product specialist at Pictet Asset Management, during a discussion sponsored by JConnelly public relations firm. “The president is important to the markets, but he is not everything.

“If Trump is re-elected not much will change for ESG investing. If Biden is elected, it will reignite ESG discussions” and push investments even higher, Buffle said. Pictet is a Swiss-based multinational financial services company.

“We have seen excellent performance for ESG strategies during the Trump administration, despite his actions, such a pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord,” added Cheryl Smith, an economist and portfolio manager at Trillium Asset Management, a socially responsible investment firm with offices in Boston, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. “At Trillium we have been focusing on companies that are working on ESG issues on their own. Under Biden, ESG investments should accelerate. But companies that do the right thing will grow under either administration.”

Trump’s actions, which are seen by many as being anti-environment, “may have actually pushed people toward more environmental action, so even if he stays in office, ESG interest will continue to grow. If Biden wins, ESG investing will grow even faster,” agreed Alex Pomeroy, co-founder and partner at AGO Partners, a socially responsible investment company based in Los Angeles, and founding investor at Aspiration.

Smith noted that investors have to examine companies closely to make sure they are meeting ESG goals they have set for themselves. “There are ways to determine if companies are actually making progress and not just making promises,” she said.

Paul Rand, managing director and partner of The Rand Group at Hightower, said most clients who are interested in ESG issues want good returns while they are improving the community. “When you talk with company management, you can tell who is passionate about ESG improvements. Clients are entrusting us to hold company managers accountable,” he said.

The pandemic also has shifted focus to ESG issues, panelists said, agreeing that social issues have grown in importance for investors because of Covid-19.

“We have gone back to companies to ask what they are doing for employees, such as providing health insurance and making sure they are working in a safe environment,” Smith said. “Once clients see they can have an impact on policies they want to do more and more.”

Regulatory changes also are impacting ESG investing, Rand said. For instance, ESG funds that are selected for inclusion in 401(k) plans have to show returns equivalent to traditional investments.

“We have to show these companies perform as well as other funds or we are not doing our fiduciary duty,” Rand said.

Fortunately, ESG funds generate good performance while investors are doing the right thing, Buffle said.