While ethical investment really took off around 25 years ago, ethics and investments have existed for centuries.

As far back as 1602 the first company to issue shares, the Dutch East India Company, faced boycotts from religious institutions because of its involvement in the slave trade.

This boycott failed then for the same reason that demand for values-based investment is growing today - the ownership of listed companies.

The market was once owned by a few wealthy individuals, but today the markets are largely owned by pension funds representing millions of individuals.

Ethical investment grew in popularity in the 1990s, with many investment companies launching a variety of ethical investment products.

Most of these applied ethical screens that prevent investment in companies involved in certain activities, such as tobacco companies or companies involved in animal testing.

While there are still plenty of investors who want hard screens, investors have also become more complex in their requirements.

Today, we continue to see the views of those seeking more values-based investment options evolve and mature and this is particularly so with the newest generation just coming into the workplace.

The Millennials have grown up in a time of significant technological advancement, earning themselves the nickname digital natives. As such, they have access to information in a way previous generations have not and this has shaped their view of the world.

They are very aware of how the world can be unjust and unfair. Issues of environmental resource constraints, climate change, modern slavery and evidence of poor corporate behaviour are easily shared through technology. This is affecting their perceptions of where they want their money invested.

Today’s values-based investors want the companies they invest in to contribute positively towards the environment and society, through the way they behave as well as through the products they create or the services they offer.

In other words, investors are increasingly looking for positive impacts from their investments, in addition to the traditional ‘avoidance’ screens.

So how can investors measure the positive contribution companies can make to society?

One way is to use well-established global principles or norms, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

These goals were launched in 2015 and are an increasingly popular set of tools to assess and measure companies against.

They are designed as part of a collective plan of action for governments, companies and civil society, who are working towards eradicating poverty in all its forms.

Given that governments have committed to these goals, they provide an essential link between common economic policy and the finance industry.

These goals address 17 of the most pressing challenges facing society and the environment.

With values-based investors increasingly seeking positive impacts from the companies in which they are invested, measuring company impact against these goals is a good starting point.

Recently we have seen a rise in the number of impact investment products where investors are seeking both a positive financial return and a social return.

However it is important for investors to understand that, as with all the different values-based investment options now available, there will be differences between what is deemed an impact.

Values-based investment options have evolved over time, from ethical investment to sustainable and responsible investment and now impact investment.

The ideas are not new, they have just evolved. Some of the best new ideas are old ones that have been rediscovered.

Amanda Young is head of responsible investment at Standard Life Investments