Tuesday, March 27, 2012

VC Investing in the Green Economy in Canada

As part of the SIPC webinar series, last week I had the pleasure of listening to Andrew Heintzman, President and CEO of Investeco, and a pioneer of green investing in Canada, discuss the why’s and how’s of cleantech investing.

He began be describing the ‘depressing global backdrop’ that makes investing in cleantech a necessity. As the world population grows, not only are we consuming more natural resources, but people in developing nations are aspiring to live the rich, resource intensive lifestyles of the western world. The confluence of demographics, resource scarcity, and environmental challenges means the economy of the future has to be a green economy.

Stating that ‘Capital markets like to flow to where significant capital can be productively employed.’, Heintzman believes that the next investment wave will be green. This includes areas such as resource efficiency, renewable energy, energy efficiency, biofuels and water.

He describes Canada as transitioning from a staples economy where wealth is based on exploiting raw natural capital without consideration of external costs, to a green economy, where we add value to our natural capital through innovation.

Heintzman provided examples of innovation in areas such as biofuels, desalination and biomaterials. However, for me, the most interesting story of an industry in transition was in forest products. Triton Logging Inc. are ‘underwater harvesting specialists’. According to their website, “Some 300 million trees have been completely flooded by hydro dams and still stand perfectly preserved beneath the world’s reservoirs. Today, Triton Logging is working around the globe recovering this forgotten resource, bringing value to communities and a clear environmental wood choice to consumers.” This demonstrates how the traditional forest products model can be transformed in an innovative way, by using something that people previously thought was waste.

The webinar concluded with Heintzman’s answers to some general questions on VC investing. Terms are more friendly today due to recent market turmoil. Sustainable investing is now less niche, and more broadly accepted. And the pie is still very small in Canada - we are significantly under investing in cleantech.

For a look at another company that’s finding new ways to be profitable in the green economy, check out this article on Waste Management Inc in the Wall Street Journal.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sustainalytics announces Asian acquisition

ESG research firm Sustainalytics has announced plans to acquire Singapore-based Responsible Research Pte Ltd., an ESG information provider covering Asia and other emerging markets.

Established in 2009, Responsible Research has built a strong reputation for high-quality ESG research and analysis, Sustainalytics said in a release.

"The addition of the Responsible Research team is another milestone in Sustainalytics' commitment to provide its clients with global coverage that is supported by insightful, regional expertise."

Responsible Research has a staff of 12, including London-based executive director Lucy Carmody and a team of eight analysts in Singapore.

Sustainalytics is based in Amsterdam, with offices in Boston, Frankfurt, Madrid, Paris, Timisoara (Romania) and Toronto, and representatives in Brussels and Copenhagen.

This isn't the company's first move into Asia. Last September, Sustainalytics announced a partnership with Korea's Sustinvest, an investment research and consulting company.

The Responsible Research deal is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close in May. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Dragon Becomes Canada’s Newest Impact Investor

Re-posted from SocialFinance.ca

by Adam Spence

This past Wednesday, a Dragon became Canada’s newest impact investor.

Arlene Dickinson, a leading Canadian investor and entrepreneur, CEO and owner of Venture Communications, and one of the “Dragons” on CBC’s Dragons' Den invested $450,000 in La Siembra, an Ottawa-based worker co-operative that owns Camino, a Canadian brand of fair trade, organic food products including chocolate and coffee.

It was a Big Decision. Arlene is clearly a discerning investor, and she was looking for a good investment that met her financial expectations. But she was clearly looking at the triple bottom line, too.

Why was it an impact investment?

La Siembra has a clear social mission:

"We, the worker-owners of La Siembra Co-operative, are committed to a model of equitable trade rooted in co-operation and the social solidarity economy. We offer consumers high-quality ethical products through partnerships with producer co-operatives that foster sustainable livelihoods and community development. We believe in meaningful, dignified employment and are guided by the co-operative principles, by the Fair Trade principles, and by a respect for the environment."

This mission clearly aligned with Arlene’s first reason to invest:

"Your (La Siembra’s) social conscience is really important to the future of doing business in this country."

They have demonstrated impact: La Siembra works directly with 18 producer co-ops, supporting more than 35,000 family farmers in 10 countries across Central and South America, and Southeast Asia.

Arlene also identified Camino as having high potential for return. It is already well regarded by the industry and by consumers for its quality, and she believed it could be a very significant, high value brand.

So why is this important?

A high profile, well-respected Canadian entrepreneur and investor made a very public and conscious commitment to make an investment that generates social and environmental impact alongside the potential for financial return. This bodes well for impact ventures and funds looking to secure capital from local, impact investors.

For more, please visit the Social Finance blog.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Finding common ground on ESG metrics

A new report reveals a disconnect between investors and companies on issues related to ESG disclosure and metrics.

The New York-based Investor Responsibility Research Center report finds that there is general agreement on key corporate sustainability issues, but not on the metrics used to measure the management of those issues, nor on the purposes served by examining corporate ESG information.

"Because traditional accounting metrics fall short in assessing sustainability, there is no agreement on how to measure corporate management of those issues," the study’s authors said in a press release. "As a result, investors find it difficult to gather and analyze corporate ESG data, even while companies are ‘survey fatigued’ by the time and resources required to fulfill data requests from various investors, investor advocates, and others seeking to create their own metrics."

The study finds that although ESG metrics are routinely reported on request by a substantial percentages of companies, few companies report all the ESG information they collect internally.

Among all U.S. firms in 2010, only 164 companies issued reports consistent with Global Reporting Initiative protocols (the standard for sustainability reporting) suggesting adoption rates of less than 15% among U.S. publicly traded companies.

"Too often the common vision of corporations and their shareowners to improve profitability and sustainability is obscured by disagreements over metrics and disclosure," said Jon Lukomnik, executive director of the IRRC Institute. "This report addresses that disconnect. It identifies environmental and social metrics that are meaningful to investors, companies and researchers. It also highlights the data mismatches between available corporate data and research needs. Finally, it suggests a way forward which could both reduce data gaps and ameliorate some of the reporting burden."

Read the full report.

Friday, March 9, 2012

PDAC 2012: Now I’m a believer

For the past number of years, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual convention has offered sessions on sustainability, CSR, aboriginal issues etc. I have attended both the convention and some of those sessions, always feeling a bit irrelevant.

However, this year the CSR Event Series played to a packed audience at sessions I was at, and from talking to other delegates, it appears that the entire series of 6 was very well attended. The level of discussion and questions was also excellent, especially compared to a kind of ‘tell me again why this matters’ attitude that I have sometimes heard in the past.

The first ever CEO panel on sustainable development and corporate strategy took place on Tuesday afternoon, organized by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM). ICMM President Tony Hodge, moderating the panel, opined that had he suggested such a topic a few years ago, he would have been met with bewilderment, ‘it’s a remarkable reflection of the growth in this industry that we are having this conversation, and something we should be very proud of.’

Identifying the top three issues they face with respect to sustainable development were the CEO’s of Barrick Gold, Avalon Rare Metals, Teck, Iamgold and Minmetals Resources. Establishing and maintaining a social license to operate was a given. Discussion focused more on what it takes to do that. How do we deal with law and order, especially as we go into less developed countries and conflict zones? What about water, at both extremes – trucking water in to drought stricken areas, and dealing with capturing and containing run off during flooding? Local and indigenous employment, resource endowment/nationalism – it was apparent that these companies are not just paying lip service to the idea of sustainability but are grappling with complex issues that have no easy answers.

A few of the CEO’s commented on the challenge and opportunity offered by social media. Don Lindsay of Teck noted that stories about mining operations can now be spread worldwide in a matter of minutes. ‘But for those companies that have made sustainability an integral part of their operations, it’s also a chance to tell our story.’

Friday, March 2, 2012

SRI Monitor Weekly News Update

Bernanke says Volcker Rule won't be ready by July deadline...read it here

Why do we need a Volcker Rule...read it here

Canada raising alarm over Volcker Rule...read it here

Paul Volcker on the 'Volcker Rule'...read it here

and from last week's Economist's Special Report on Financial Innovation, an interesting discussion of Social Impact Bonds...read it here