Friday, January 30, 2009

Barrick Gold removed from Norwegian pension fund

Citing environmental concerns, Norway has expelled Canadian miner Barrick Gold from its $400 billion government pension fund.

The fund stated today that it had sold Barrick shares worth about $222 million due to reports of environmental damage at the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea. Barrick, the world’s largest gold producer, has a 95% stake in the project.

Norway created a Council of Ethics in 2004 to monitor the pension fund’s holdings.

“In its assessment, the Council on Ethics concluded that Barrick Gold Corporation is causing severe environmental damages as a direct result of its operations. I have therefore decided to follow the Council on Ethics’ recommendation on exclusion of Barrick Gold Corporation from the investment universe of the Fund," Norway’s Minister of Finance Kristin Halvorsen said in a statement.

Norway limited its investigation to the Porgera mine, but was also critical of what the minister called a lack of openness and transparency in the company’s environmental reporting.

Barrick has not released a public statement on the expulsion. However, spokesperson Vince Borg told Bloomberg that the company disagrees with Norway’s allegations that the Porgera mine operation is damaging the environment.

Barrick is “managing and mitigating the risks,” Borg said. “We’ve made steady progress in improving the Porgera mine in any respect from providing sustainable economic development to protecting the environment.”

The CPP Investment Board, the investment arm of the Canada Pension Plan, held Barrick shares worth an estimated $519 million dollars, as of March 31, 2008.

(All figures in Canadian dollars)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Juicy: crunching the carbon footprint numbers

For those of us who think about our own carbon footprint, it’s safe to say that orange juice isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, PepsiCo, which makes Tropicana, one of North America’s most popular juice brands, recently revealed that a 64 ounce (about two litre) carton of Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice has a lifecycle carbon footprint of 1.7 kilograms.

In many ways, this is a laudable effort by PepsiCo. The company worked with The Carbon Trust to map the product lifecycle of Tropicana juice, including growing the oranges, getting the containers on store shelves, and disposing or recycling the packaging. At each stage, the trust added the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions to estimate the total greenhouse gas footprint of the product. PepsiCo says the Tropicana number creates “a verifiable benchmark against which the company can measure greenhouse gas reduction progress going forward.”

Still, the process raises a number of questions. Is 1.7 kilograms a “good” number in the beverage world? It’s hard to say, since PepsiCo is one of the first companies to publish this data, although it has pledged to reveal the same number for some of its other products, such as Pepsi-Cola, Diet Pepsi and Gatorade. But a little digging reveals that the Carbon Trust has also worked with U.K. grocery chain Tesco, and found that 64 ounces of Tesco’s 100% Pure Squeezed orange juice has a carbon footprint of about 2.9 kilograms.

Fiji Water calculated its own carbon footprint and posted the results online: about one kilogram for two litres of Fiji’s bottled water.

Critics say Fiji's numbers are nothing more than greenwashing. Pablo Paster, a sustainability engineer at Triple Pundit, calculates that the manufacture and transport of a one kilogram bottle of Fiji water consumes 26 kilograms of water and nearly one kilo of fossil fuel. Paster concludes that it takes nearly seven times as much water to make Fiji’s products than you actually drink. Food, or rather, drink for thought.

Ottawa to spend $1 billion on green infrastructure

There wasn’t much in Budget 2009 for social investors, or for investors of any stripe, for that matter. However, among the plethora of new spending proposed in this year’s budget is a $1 billion Green Infrastructure Fund. Ottawa says green investing can improve the quality of the environment and lead to a more sustainable economy. The new fund, to be allocated over the next five years, will focus on infrastructure that supports the creation of sustainable energy, such as modern transmission lines, which the government says will contribute to improved air quality and lower carbon emissions.

The fund includes $150 million for research and $850 million for the “development and demonstration of promising technologies, including large scale carbon capture and storage projects.” Funding for the new projects will be allocated based on merit to support green infrastructure projects on a cost-shared basis. Ottawa hopes to generate a total investment in clean technologies of at least $2.5 billion over the next five years.

The government says it also plans to consult with stakeholders to identify specific carbon capture and storage projects with a view to providing accelerated capital cost allowance deductions to promote such investments.

Advancing the timing of capital cost deductions for tax purposes defers taxation and improves the financial return from investments in particular assets, the budget documents note.