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Blog: From Ethics to Impact: The History of Making a Difference with Dollars

Although the practice of Impact Investing is relatively new (indeed, the term was only coined in 2007)1, the concept of using one’s money to make a difference has been around for a long, long time. But it didn’t start with a triple bottom line philosophy…The movement began more as a way to avoid evil:  In relatively modern history–the 1700s, to be more specific–Methodists began avoiding investment in industries that were considered to be harmful, like guns, liquor, tobacco, and gambling2. (In later years, these became known as “sin stocks”.)

sin-stocks

“Sin stocks” were not supported by Methodists and other religious communities.

Now fast-forward 200 years: It’s the 1960s and a modern era of investment has begun, interestingly, it is also strongly rooted in faith. During this era, Toronto became home to the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility (TCCR), a coalition of Canadian churches and religious orders. It addressed Canadian corporations, the Canadian government and international institutions on issues of corporate, social, and environmental responsibility. By supporting the member organizations to communicate their concerns (aka “shareholder activism”), the Taskforce helped to convince Canadian companies to pull out of South Africa during apartheid, and pushed a company in British Columbia to publish the first environmental report by a publicly traded company.3

The Taskforce also assisted churches in examining their own investment policies and practices3: Whereas the Methodists of the 1700s had avoided investing in certain industries by screening them “out”, known as “negative screening”, the 1960s and ‘70s saw a new development in the screening process: “positive screening”, the process by which companies were screened “in” for meeting certain standards. Negative and positive screenings were generally referred to as “ethical investment”. As well, some religious communities and churches sought ways to invest directly in community-based projects. For religious communities, this was a new development for the ‘alternative investment’ movement–“Or what now’s called the ‘social impact’ industry,'” says Moira Hutchinson, board member of the Canadian Alternative Investment Cooperative. (Side-note: This is a rather amusing example of how language changes over time, in 2014 “alternative investment” now “includes hedge funds, managed futures, real estate, commodities and derivatives contracts”5.)

Moira was one of the key members of The Taskforce and is also a recipient of the 2013 Canadian SRI Distinguished Service Award. She further explains how the screening process was refined over time:

“We were looking for the companies that were the ‘best of sector’, for example, looking for the mining company that was doing the least damage… …We wanted to figure out how to pick out the companies that were the best in a range of factors that could be measured, not just environmental impact, but diversity of employees, diversity on the board of governance…that was the approach that became fairly standard among ethical investors at that time.”

Moira acknowledges that over the years “there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for individual investors to invest in alternative…Or social impact investments.” But there is hope for the future: “It’s only in very recent years that, with the whole concept of ’impact investing’…That there will be more opportunities for people to invest in those kinds of investments, and without having to have substantial amounts of money.”

Now we have better than “best-of-sector”. Companies that offer impact investments are not doing the least damage, but aim to do the most good. These companies exist to monetize their mission, to do good and make money doing it. And you can join in.

(Shameless plug: For $500, you can invest in ZooShare and earn 7% each year for 7 years, while generating renewable energy and cleaning the air.)

References:

1) Financing Social Good: A Primer on Impact Investing in Canada. Toronto: Purpose Capital, RBC, Mars Centre for Impacting Investing. Pg. 5. Retrieved from: http://www.rbc.com/community-sustainability/_assets-custom/pdf/Financing-Social-Good.pdf
2) http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-50-the-use-of-money
3) Darwin, Frances. Personal Interview with Moira Hutchinson. July 28th 2014
4) http://www.share.ca/about/responsible-investment/taskforce-on-the-churches-and-corporate-responsibility/
5) http://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/alternative_investment.asp

Blog: What’s Your Impact Investing Story?

At 20 years old, I became an impact investor, even though I didn’t know what “impact investing” was.1

I turned up at an investment firm with a crumped piece of paper in my hand; it was a single paragraph that I’d ripped it out of The Economist about an investment fund that was supporting local enterprise in developing countries in South East Asia.

Seven years earlier, my family and I had been living in Indonesia, it was 1997 and the Asian economy was crumbling around us. As the political situation became increasingly violent, we decided to leave.

Now, I wanted to use my money (the little that I had, as a debt-laden university student) to help the societies of the people I had met growing up. I didn’t want to go the charity route—the ol’ “give a man a fish or teach a man to fish” had proven itself to me again and again. When I read about the investment fund in The Economist, I saw an opportunity to save money, make money (to me, it seemed the Asian economy could only go up) and to support a cause I believed in—helping others to help themselves.

When I explained my plan to my new financial advisor, he flat out refused to assist me. Eventually he admitted that his investment firm carried a similar product to the one described in The Economist, but he strongly advised me against it. We went back and forth for 20 minutes, arguing, until he finally relented, begrudgingly. A year later, I returned to discover that the fund had increased by 30%. My financial advisor apologized.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was participating in Impact Investment, “an investment…with the explicit intention to create a positive impact and generate a financial return,”2 or, as my 20-year old self would have described it: “a cool way to make money and a difference at the same time.”

Sir Ronald Cohen, Chairman of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce, explains much more eloquently, that “impact investment is a response to the urgent need to achieve innovation and scale in the way we tackle today’s complex societal challenges. It seeks to channel capital to drive measurable social and financial returns. It aims to harness investment and entrepreneurial skills to drive social innovation in the same manner investment and enterprise drives business and technical innovation.” 3

Now, I’ve added ZooShare to my impact investment portfolio. I’m proud to be a member of such a forward-thinking group of investors. Together, we are supporting a local project that will make a lasting positive impact on our environment, long after our principals are returned. As the impact investing industry continues to grow, I look forward to discovering and researching other impact investment opportunities to diversity my portfolio and amplify my personal impact, so I can leave this world better than I found it.

What’s your impact investing story? Email me to be interviewed, and possibly have your story shared on the ZooShare blog.

Sources:

1 Indeed, the term “Impact Investing” wasn’t coined until a few years later, in 2007. Financing Social Good: A Primer on Impact Investing in Canada. Toronto: Purpose Capital, RBC, Mars Centre for Impacting Investing. Pg. 5. Retrieved from: http://www.rbc.com/community-sustainability/_assets-custom/pdf/Financing-Social-Good.pdf
2,3 Harji, Karim. Reynolds, Joanna. Best, Hilary. Jeyaloganathan, Mathu. (2014) State of the Nation Impact Investing in Canada. Toronto: Purpose Capital, The MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. Pg. 90. Retrieved from: http://impactinvesting.marsdd.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Impact-Investing-in-Canada-State-of-the-Nation.pdf

Blog: How “natural” is natural gas?

Since the late ‘90s, the word “natural” has been permeating the marketplace. Everything from fresh produce, to shampoo to artificially flavoured junk food has been branded as “natural”.

This label of course, is linked to the idea of promoting and living a healthier lifestyle, it is implied that “natural” is better for you, and “natural” is better for the environment. (The less chemicals, colouring and hormones, the better!)

In light of this new slant on the definition of “natural”, it’s interesting to contemplate why natural gas doesn’t seem more contradictory. As a fossil fuel that releases harmful emissions and greenhouse gasses, it certainly isn’t good for our health, or the health of the environment.

While natural gas may not conform to our newly formed consumer definition of “natural”, it is natural by the traditional definition of “made by nature”.

Thanks to the death and decay of millions of prehistoric animals and plants that were exposed to intense heat and pressure in the bowels of the Earth, we now have fossil fuels. Fossils fuels include crude oil, (a.k.a. petroleum) coal (which we just said goodbye to, here in Ontario) and, of course, natural gas.

Despite being a fossil fuel, natural gas is often seen clean energy alternative. Why? It burns more cleanly than other fossil fuels, “releasing lower levels of harmful emissions such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides”[1].

Like biogas, natural gas is composed of methane. Methane is known for its toxic effects on the environment, however, when methane is burned, it can be converted into heat or electricity and produces 30% less carbon dioxide than crude oil and 45% less than coal.

If biogas and natural gas are comprised of the same substance, what makes biogas any better than natural gas? It’s their origin. Natural gas comes from the aforementioned dead animals and plants, of which we have a limited supply, and biogas comes from our waste, which, unfortunately, seems to be a never ending supply in North America.

In addition to the controversy of natural gas coming from a limited supply of precious decayed animals, recent technological developments in the gas industry have created a new wave of controversy. Say hello to the new mining technique that extracts natural gas far below the surface of the Earth, you’ve probably heard of it: fracking.

Fracking is the mining for natural gas deep underground, where gas is stored in the pores of rocks like shale. Being able to reach and extract gas in such a way at such a level is an incredible feat of science that has revolutionized the mining industry, but not much is known about it.

Critics would be quick to point out the desperation of energy companies to find additional fossil fuels means they are ignoring the potential environmental hazards of fracking. Many consider fracking a stop-gap measure as society makes the transition to other energy sources…like biogas.

[1]Brinson, Linda C.. “Is natural gas a good source of energy?” 29 August 2012. HowStuffWorks.com. http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/natural-gas-energy.htm 27 March 2014.

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Member Update: June 2014

Recap of ZooShare’s 2014 Annual General Meeting

We hope you enjoyed the first day of summer, which was also World Giraffe Day, and ZooShare’s Annual General Meeting. We had a wonderful day: Some of our members brought their families for an exclusive Kids’ Tour of the Zoo; AGM attendees learned about our progress from the Executive Director, elected a new Board of Directors, and participated in brainstorming sessions to help us gain perspective on a few of our challenges.

We also discussed the creation of two new committees: 1) Marketing and 2) Finances. We will be selecting three members per committee to join a Board Member and specialist who can help the ZooShare staff with specific challenges in these areas. If you are interested in applying, please take a look at the Terms of Reference, then send us a short paragraph explaining which committee you would like to join and why you would be interested in participating, along with any skills or experience you have in this area.

Please let us know if you have any questions about what you missed or to learn more about our progress. Below are some photos from the event. We look forward to seeing you at next year’s AGM.

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Above: ZooShare Members and their families enjoy an exclusive Kids’ Tour of the Zoo.

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Above: Executive Director Daniel Bida presents the Annual Update.

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Above: We elected a new Board of Directors, ushered in by the Chief Returning Officer and current Board Member, Tom Ferencivic.

IMG_9454
Above: Kyla Greenham, Curator of Conservation and Environment at the Toronto Zoo, presented some of the Zoo’s conservation initiatives. ZooShare will donate 10% of its annual profits to the Zoo’s Development Activities.

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Above: Members were broken up into teams to brainstorm solutions to some of our current challenges. Team 2, pictured above, provided the most actionable items, and won a Beer Night with ZooShare staff.

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Member Update: May 2014

Happy Birthday to us!

On April 26th ZooShare turned 3! (And no, we did not make this cake.)
happy-birthday-you-old-poop

We’ve accomplished so much in the last three years, we want to thank you for being here to celebrate with us. This year we have continued to develop our long term strategy: We would like to thank Jing, who compiled a North American Expansion Report for us…First stop Toronto Zoo, next stop, the continent! If you would like copy of the report, let us know. We look forward to sharing our next phase of growth with you.

Bond Sales Update

April was one of our best months this year! We are nearing $700,000 in sales. Our return is excellent. 7% interest each year for 7 years. Tell your friends, and we’ll plant a tree in your name. Got a question? Email nicholas and he’ll get back to you ASAP.

Welcome Blair:

This month we are happy to welcome Blair, our new Outreach Coordinator. Blair will be joining us for the summer and is in charge of organizing and attending our public appearances. Know a group or event that would love to hear about ZooShare? Email Blair. Just why is Blair standing in front of a rhino? You’ll just have to wait to find out!
Blair and Rhino

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Member Update: April 2014

SPRING IS ALMOST HERE! (Thank goodness!) And just like the fresh buds of spring…

We’re growing!

This season we welcome our first Communications Coordinator, Frances Darwin (centre), and our new Investor Relations Coordinator, Nicholas Guthrie (right). These two will be responsible for spreading the word about ZooShare, and, best of all, taking care of you! Got a brilliant idea for a ZooShare ad? Have friends who want to invest? Drop them a line and they will be happy to set up a time to chat with you.

Bond sales update

Since launching our investment opportunity in mid-September, we are pleased to share that we have raised over $635,000! 7% interest over 7 years is a great investment.

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Member Update: January 2014

We hope that your new year has started off well and that you’re staying warm.  We’ve been hard at work networking with like-minded organizations and other co-operatives, making presentations to potential investors at numerous events, reaching out to members and friends, finalizing the Renewable Energy Approval application, setting up our educational programming, and planning for a very busy year.  The rewarding thing is, the more we get out there and talk to people like yourself, the more we learn and improve.  There is a lot of waste out there and a lot of impact to be made by turning it into biogas – we are so thankful to be developing the community-owned biogas market together with you.

Digest this!

A partnership long in development, ZooShare was very pleased to formalize its relationship with TREC Education this past month. Beginning in January, grade 7 students around the GTA will have the opportunity to experience the power of poo and the magic of biogas as our certified educators take them through a series of activities related to how digestion works, how biogas is produced, how it is stored and how it combusts.  The curriculum also includes a design challenge, where the students form small groups and create their own mini biogas plants.  Once our plant at the Zoo is up and running, a site visit and tour will become part of the lesson – giving students an up-close and personal look at how a biogas plant works and the true value of organic waste.

Additional Grant Funding

The Community Energy Partnerships Program was created by the Ontario Power Authority and the Ministry of Energy when the Green Energy Act was first launched.  Since that time the program has evolved into two grant funding streams – a pre-FIT Organizational Development grant and a Development and Approvals grant, once a FIT offer has been received.  We are very thankful to have received our third grant since 2011 from the CEPP program this past month.  Approximately $248,000 was awarded to our co-operative to assist with the cost of getting permits and approvals, project engineering, and Community Bond sales and marketing.

For more information about the CEPP program, please click here.

Bond sales update

Since launching in mid September, we are pleased to share the news that we now have 172 members and have raised $595,100 through the sale of Community Bonds.

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Member Update: December 2013

After launching our Community Bonds and our new website in October, we’ve been out at events promoting ZooShare and interacting with potential member/investors. It’s been incredible meeting with people and seeing their enthusiasm for biogas and what we’re doing at the Zoo.

Bond sales update

Since September 16th, when the Community Bonds first became available to members, we are very excited to share the news that we now have 164 members and have raised $494,500.

Give the gift of poo!

Lumps of coal for the naughty kids and lumps of poo for the nice ones? Tis’ the season, and we’re excited to offer gifts that come with a return on investment!

Included in the gift package:
$500 ZooShare Community Bond (paying 7% each year)
1 year membership to the Toronto Zoo
A FREE lifetime ZooShare membership
Cute and cuddly giraffe plush
Personalized adoption certificate (from WWF Canada)
A $40 tax receipt (for the gift giver)
Priced at $635/710/735 (individual/couple/family memberships, respectively), at maturity the bondholder will have received a total of $745 in interest and principal.

Contact us before December 13/2013 (1-888-990-9095) to pick one up for the avid poo lover on your list.

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Member Update: October 2013

<h3>ZooShare Launches its Community Bonds at the Zoo</h3>

On Thursday October 10, ZooShare hosted our official public launch at the Toronto Zoo! Together with our members, distinguished guests from the Zoo and Bullfrog Power, and our adorable fuel suppliers, we celebrated this major milestone and the availability of ZooShare’s Community Bonds. We are so proud and grateful to reach this exciting point in our development – Ontarians now have a chance to play a role in contributing towards the growth of our co-operative and the community-owned biogas sector. Paying 7 per cent annually over seven years, the Community Bonds will be used to finance the construction of a 500-kilowatt biogas plant, to be built in 2014, at the Toronto Zoo. To learn more about the event, click here.

<h3>Announcing our Education Sponsor: Bullfrog Power!</h3>

On the same day we also very proudly announced that ZooShare has partnered with Bullfrog Power to deliver biogas education programs to students and individuals around Ontario. As ZooShare’s Education Sponsor, Bullfrog will assist in the development and delivery of educational materials about how biogas (also know as green natural gas) is made, how it can be used, and its many benefits to the environment and local communities.

“ZooShare is the kind of innovative green energy solution with the power to inspire that our Bullfrog Builds program was created to support, through Bullfrog Builds, we’re helping the development of new renewable energy projects across Canada and showing people what’s possible in their communities.” Ron Seftel, Senior Vice President, Operations, Bullfrog Power. Click here to learn more.

<h3>ZooShare Referral Rewards Program:</h3>

Not satisfied with just offering above average returns, removing cars from the road and supporting the conservation work of the Toronto Zoo, we decided it was time to step our game – with the ZooShare referral rewards program. It’s simple and easy to participate, and allows you the opportunity to double down on the positive impact you’re having on the environment. Here’s how it works:
Tell your friends and family that you love poo so much that you decided to invest in it with ZooShare
Let them know where to find more info (zooshare.ca) and to write your name in the “how did you hear about ZooShare” section of the membership application.
We’ll keep track of the referrals, and Tree Canada will plant the trees. All you have to do is share your love of poo, and feel good about helping the environment.
For every $1,000 worth of bonds that you refer, ZooShare will plant:
1 tree if you refer up to $10,000
2 trees if you refer more than $10,000
3 trees if you refer more than $20,000
For those extra special members who refer more than $50,000, you and your family will receive a special day at the Zoo, in addition to all those trees planted. Please contact us to learn more.

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Member Update: September 2013

As the beautiful (short) summer comes to a close, we would like to give a friendly reminder that if you join ZooShare before September 1, your $100 membership fee can be applied to the first bond you purchase. This great savings will enable you to have full lifetime membership in the ZooShare, equipped with a seat and voting privileges at the ZooShare Annual General Meeting, where your voice can be heard.

Take advantage of this excellent offer by following the link to the right for maximum earnings on your ZooShare bond – putting more poo in your pocket!!

Member & Friends of ZooShare We need your lovely faces and poopy puns!

We are asking our members and supporters to please send us fun and friendly photos of yourselves for our new website.

We are also excited to share the news that we’re working on a little pocket book the funniest poo jokes and puns around. If you have any good ones, please don’t be shy!

Let your creativity shine, if you’d like to be featured in the member section of the new site, or become a pooblished author, please send your photos & jokes to

New Faces to ZooShare

ZooShare recently welcomed Mark Fernandez as our new Sales & Marketing Coordinator. Mark has an extensive history in grassroots advocacy for renewable energy and sustainability in Toronto. He also helped establish pvXchange, a solar procurement company, in North America, represented the company in Canada and travelled extensively through Germany and the United States. Mark is proud to have helped procure and install over 1,000 kilowatts of renewable energy in Ontario and is very excited to be back working in the community power sector and promoting ZooShare locally!

We are also pleased and very excited to announce the appointments of two new ZooShare Board Members, Paul Ungerman and Jon Bahen.

Paul is the Manager of Government Affairs at Union Gas Limited, Canada’s second largest natural gas storage, transmission and distribution utility serving 1.4 million Ontario residential, commercial and industrial customers. Prior to joining Union Gas, Paul worked in the Ontario Government, serving as chief of staff to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, director of policy to the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure; and as a senior advisor to the Minister of Health Promotion. Paul received an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario (Huron College) and attained a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from McMaster University.

Jon, who has taken on the role of Treasurer on the Board, is currently a Senior Construction Manager at Recurrent Energy. Jon has been engaged in renewable projects for the last 6 years on the international stage, building wind projects for Vestas in Europe, South America and Africa. He has played the role of the EPC contractor and more recently the developer.. He has a keen understanding of the requirements to build power plants and connect them to the provincial grid. He has a B.Eng in Aerospace Engineering and a MASc in Mechanical Engineering from Ryerson University.

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