While things like the environment and social concerns influence what people choose as investments, the bottom line is still what matters most, according to a survey released by TIAA-CREF.

"This survey affirms that our participants want  a secure retirement and investment decision-making that is driven by financial returns," said Scott C. Evans, executive vice president  and head of asset management for the New York-based company.

Designed to gauge investor's understanding of the organization's socially responsible investment strategies (SRI), TIAA-CREF hired Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, of Washington to interview 1,002 investors, half of whom invested in the CREF Social Choice Fund, and half of whom did not.

Thirty-four percent of SRI investors said that said they strongly agreed that financial return is the most important factor when choosing an investment, while 85% of SRI investors agreed, and 91% of all those interviewed agreed, either strongly or somewhat.

SRI investors overwhelmingly agreed--whether strongly or somewhat--that their investments should reflect their values by a margin of 83%. Sixty-seven percent of non-SRI investors felt the same.

Sixty percent of non-SRI investors described themselves as unfamiliar with the philosophy, suggesting potential for market growth in the area, according to the company.

When it comes to investment strategy screening, the two groups' views differed, with SRI investors calling social screening the most important type of screening, followed by community investing and shareholder activism. Non-SRI investors ranked shareholder activism first, followed closely by social screening and community investing. CREF's Social Choice Account is the largest social screening fund in the world, as of the end of March, with $8 billion under management.

"The TIAA-CREF survey is a signal of what many other investors will expect of their investments in terms of screening, shareholder advocacy and community investing.  Its findings are also a significant statement for the whole social investment industry," said Tim Smith, president of the Social Investment Forum, and senior vice president of Walden Asset Management  of Boston.

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