Practitioners and academics have been using different terms to describe investments in the sustainability context. The latest inflationary term is impact investments—investments that focus on real-world changes in terms of solving social challenges and/or mitigating ecological degradation. At the core of this definition is an emphasis on transformational changes. However, the term impact investment is often used interchangeably for any investment that incorporates environmental, social, and governance (ESG) aspects. In the latter instance, achieving transformational change is not the main purpose of such investments, which therefore carries the risk of impact washing (akin to “green washing”). To offer (re-)orientation from an academic perspective, we derive a new typology of sustainable investments. This typology delivers a precise definition of what impact investments are and what they should cover. As one central contribution, we propose distinguishing between impact-aligned investments and impact-generating investments. Based on these insights, we hope to lay the foundation for future research and debates in the field of impact investing by practitioners, policymakers, and academics alike.

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