Plant growing on coins in jar on table on green nature background

Investing in the Future? Go “Sustainable.”

by Jackie Ramler and Sophie Mathewson

While the bigger issue of climate change and the plastic crisis in our oceans seems overwhelming and beyond our ability to change, there are many things we can do in our communities to make a positive difference. These ‘little’ changes don’t have to cost much and really are just a matter of choice and changing habits.

Today, many of us have a colourful collection of shopping bags and we are in the habit of folding the bags after emptying them in our kitchens and putting them back into the car, ready for the next shopping trip. This habit, once it becomes permanent and once it’s adopted by the entire community, will reduce plastic bag waste in our communities. It’s a little change with a big impact.

The Mayor’s Task Force, Sustainable Orillia, wants to identify local changes we can make now to avoid larger problems in the future—and in the process, build a better community.

Follow Your Money

In crime stories, fictional or real, it is often important to “follow the money.” When searching for sustainable practices in our lives, it is equally important to “follow the money.” The Private Development and Investment Sector Committee is investigating how we can bring about positive changes to property development, planning and management, construction waste issues, waste recycling strategies, and the carbon market.

One way we can have an effect is to practice sustainable investing. If we stop to think about it, we can easily create positive change when we band together and choose to buy, or not buy, a particular product. History gives us many examples. In the 1700s the British abolitionists launched a campaign to buy only sugar not made by slaves. This simple message, avoiding sugar produced by slaves, helped lead to emancipation. Today’s ‘Fair Trade’ coffee campaign, which many have heard of, supports the paying of fair prices to small farmers by big corporations—but did you know buying “shade grown, bird friendly” coffee, supports the preservation of habitat many of our local birds rely on when they go south for the winter?

As consumers we are powerful and ‘vote’ with our money every day. As investors we have the same power to bring about incremental change. Do you remember the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh where more than 1,000 people were killed and 2,500 injured? News coverage of the aftermath revealed clothing for several popular brands was made there. Suddenly many did not feel so good wearing that cute outfit we picked up cheap while shopping.

The World Economic Forum suggests that, for public companies to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development goals, the key pillars must include environmental and social responsibility. As investors, when we know we have choices, and when we have good information about which companies are taking their environmental and social responsibilities seriously, we can make better decisions about which companies we invest in. Our investments can align with our own values, making us responsible investors.

From a “risk perspective,” every year there are companies getting into trouble with scandal or disaster. If a company is known to have liabilities such as poor worker safety, chemical spills, or excessive pollution, investors need to be aware that liabilities such as these could affect stock prices—and your investment portfolio. Research focusing on environmental, social and corporate governance issues is not only conscientious, but also crucial to evaluating the underlying risk of an investment and ensuring it will continue to meet our needs.

If these issues are important, you can choose to invest in companies working to be a part of the solution rather than compounding the problems of waste, climate change, inadequate wages, pollution, and low employee safety standards. Dr. Tessa Hebb of Carleton University found in a 2015 study there is strong evidence that investing in “responsible” funds reduces investment risks, making it possible to align your investments with your priorities for society and the environment and still experience strong returns.

Sustainable Development

The Sector committee members will also examine ways we can support sustainability with local developments. For example, we can influence improved energy efficiency, densification, the application of technologies that store or reduce carbon, and even support the development of “sustainably focused’ business parks. An example of the latter is the potential Hydro One development in Orillia which would provide safe and clean jobs at an operation that would be a wealth generator for the city.
Densification zoning in the downtown core has recently been a local hot button item, but is all densification bad? Preventing urban sprawl preserves valuable farmland. People who can telecommute have less need to drive, and tend to walk more, support local retailers and service businesses, and have more time for family and friends. Incorporating green spaces into densified centres creates an environment that is cooler and more livable. These things happen when local politicians give our municipal administration the guidance and tools to plan accordingly. Citizens can give them reasons to see sustainability as a priority.
In all these areas of investment, we have choices. In a sustainable community, we will choose wisely, and our choices will make a difference to the way we and our neighbours live.

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