Seventy per cent of Canadians said they think it’s important to invest in companies with strong environmental, social and governance performance, according to a new study by Mackenzie Investments.

While a majority of survey respondents said they believe socially responsible investing is important, just 31 per cent hold ethical investments. Among those who don’t, one-third said they plan to add them to their portfolios in the future.

Half of Canadians engaging in socially responsible investing said the environment was their top issue, followed by global human rights and animal welfare (28 per cent, respectively) and women’s equality and anti-corruption (18 per cent, respectively).

“Canadians tend to be very socially aware so it’s not a big surprise we’re increasingly appreciating the importance of aligning our investing with our values,” said Barry McInerney, president and chief executive officer at Mackenzie Investments, in a press release.

McInerney attributed the relatively low uptake of responsible investing to the fact that it’s still a growing trend. He also noted there are still a small number of responsible investment options available. “As the space matures and firms ramp up their SRI fund offerings, I believe we’ll see a dramatic increase in adoption rates,” he said.

While survey respondents expressed strong interest in responsible investing, the perception still persists that doing so means lower returns. Sixty-seven per cent of respondents who said they engage in SRI believe responsible funds offer lower returns than standard funds. But 53 per cent of those surveyed said they’d be willing to sacrifice some returns to invest in companies that align with their own values.

“While it says a lot that most of us would be prepared to accept lower returns from our ethical investments, this doesn’t have to be the case,” said McInerney. “In fact, ethical funds have the same opportunity to outperform a benchmark as their more traditional peers.”