Q: As the RRSP deadline rolls around, can you recommend any green (not just ethical, a term I find misleading) RRSPs?
A: Ah, yes, tax season. This is when I start thinking, "Crap, I really should start doing that whole RRSP thing." And everyone around me starts shaking their head, muttering, "Damn, girl, you still haven't bought RRSPs?"
But for the rest of you who have the good sense to plan for your retirement and an even better sense about not sinking your cash into nasty oil-, tobacco- and mining-based mutual funds, green investments are a good option. And despite their bum rap, they aren't necessarily sinkholes.
Most of the conscious investment funds out there are branded as ethical rather than just green. However, they pretty much all say they factor green issues into investment decisions along with other concerns like human rights. Plus, they all stay away from nuke-, military- and tobacco-related companies.
But if you look at the list of investments at most places, you'll probably notice some pretty questionable companies, like Shell. Yes, it's a fairly progressive oil company when you compare it to, say, Esso, but tell that to the people of Nigeria. Still, the company's Canadian branch supports action on climate change and is on the Jantzi Research social investment index of 60 ethically screened Canuck companies. (Meritas, the Mennonite-based ethical fund, has a mutual fund based on the Jantzi index).
Conscious outfits like the Ethical Funds Company generally invest in corporations whose management commits to making labour, eco or human rights improvements, which you may or may not think is enough. Some say it's a good thing that funds leverage their buying power to push corporations to clean up their act. And if they don't, the funds will eventually dump them.
Among the few purely green investment funds in Canada are Acuity's Clean Environment Equity and Balanced Funds. Both have holdings in smaller mining and oil and gas corporations. Are they responsible companies? Maybe, but they're still in the mining and oil biz. The funds do, however, perform well.
The only investment that might satisfy eco purists is the Clean Power Income Fund. It's an income trust that invests solely in wind, solar, biomass and other forms of renewable energy. It's also the first income fund to be certified under the federal Environmental Choice program. Unfortunately, ethical financial advisers tell us it doesn't do as well others.
If you're going to sink your RRSPs into a GIC, pick a bank that's got cred. The Alterna Credit Union (formerly known as the Metro Credit Union, www.metrocu.com) won't invest in companies that have dodgy eco track records or poor labour practices. The Citizens Bank of Canada, a full-service virtual bank, is another good one, with similar lending policies. Both institutions carry ethical mutual funds and have advisers who actually know the ethical portfolio.
Mainstream banks, by the way, don't really carry any such funds (though some have been known to tell customers that all their funds are ethical when they're not). They say there's no demand for them. So if you want them to, I suggest you start vocalizing your interest. Until then, go to www.socialinvestment.ca for a list of ethical financial advisers.
Already got RRSPs that ain't exactly eco? Well, right now Amnesty International Canada is asking that you contact your mutual funds and pension funds to support shareholder proposals at five multinational corporations targeting Chevron's toxic waste in the Amazon, Dow's responsibility in the Bhopal disaster and more (see amnesty.ca/campaigns/sharepower for details).
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