Q: Are there eco-friendly investments or banks to sink my hard-earned cash into?
A: Your money can be green in more than one sense. Hard to believe when the world of banking and financing is so notoriously nefarious. We all groan about how banks gouge the hell out of us. But what doesn't get muttered about around the water cooler quite as often is that they're also putting your hard-earned money to work financing dirty gold mines, oil digs and ecologically devastating dams around the world.
Some banks have taken baby steps toward earth-friendly practices. All five big Canadian banks signed onto the United Nations Environment Programme in 1992, but a decade later none of the banks had much to show for it. Now, RBC has developed some environmental loans and enviro funds. Both RBC and CIBC have signed onto the Equator Principles, voluntary guidelines that mean the bank can't invest in projects like the Three Gorges Dam project in China. TD is at the back of the pack.
But the Citizens Bank (www. citizensbank. ca) is the only bank in Canada with a truly socially and ecologically responsible lending policy. It won't invest in any company with a poor eco record or nuclear power ties. The full-service virtual bank also gives part of its profits to green charities. Another great place to put your coin is a credit union. They offer all the same services as banks, plus every member has a share in the cooperative.
The Metro Credit Union (www. metrocu.com), with six local branches, won't invest in corps with ecologically destructive practices, not to mention poor labour relations or human rights standards. Desjardins (www.desjardins. com), Quebec's big credit union, also has six branches in T.O. and is now developing its eco policies.
Got extra cash you wanna see grow? Green mutual funds like the Clean Environment Funds invest in companies keen on sustainable development. Most ethical funds use ecological and social criteria for screening. For instance, the Ethical Funds Company, Meritas Funds and Real Assets Mutual Funds all screen for green considerations as well as things like tobacco, nukes and human rights. You can invest in all these funds as part of your RRSP portfolio.
It is possible to get these through any financial adviser, but most won't know a thing about ethical funds. The Social Investment Organization's Web site (www.socialinvestment.ca) lists tons of advisers across the country who know ethical funds well. These advisers can also help you if you're interested in directly investing in ecologically screened stocks or bonds.
If you work for a company or an organization with a pension plan, it's probably got your pennies invested in polluting (but oh so lucrative) industries like big oil and tobacco. Do a little digging and see for yourself. If so, it's time to encourage fellow shareholders to push for a pension you can all be proud of, one that considers the environmental and ethical risks involved in corporate business practices and introduces some screens so your retirement isn't built on Mother Nature's back.
OK, so you've almost got your finances in order. Now it's time to open that wallet and peek at your credit cards. Instead of handing all that interest straight to Visa, why not share a little with your charity of choice? Oxfam and Amnesty International have credit cards (offered through the Citizens Bank). The non-profit orgs get 10 cents with each purchase and 20 bucks right off the bat when you sign up for your card - a much better rate than many affinity cards. (FYI: the World Wildlife Fund cancelled its credit card program in Canada.)
You can get WWF cheques, as well as Humane Society of Canada, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation or Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business cheques (available at most financial institutions or www.dhltd.com). But the amount that actually makes it back to these charities is pretty low - roughly $1 per batch. Note that those pretty National Parks of Canada cheques are strictly for show; no cash is donated to the parks themselves.
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