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Guelph Community Foundation purges fossil fuel investments from portfolio

Policy changes seek investment in renewable energy, affordable housing, nature conservation and more
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Guelph Community Foundation executive director Chris Willard.

By ditching fossil fuel investments and avoiding others with potentially negative repercussions for society as a whole, Guelph Community Foundation is looking to have a greater impact on the community.

Last week the foundation’s board of directors unanimously approved policy changes that will see it divest its stock in fossil fuel industries, while actively seeking out opportunities to invest in renewable energy projects, affordable housing, nature conservation and more.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Chris Willard, the foundation’s executive director. “It doubles the positive impact. It means that we’re generating our returns through really strong and good investment, the ethically and morally strong way to do it, to support things that matter in our community.”

The foundation invests donor dollars and disburses revenue generated in support of a number of community initiatives. In January, the foundation handed out nearly $500,000 to 37 local groups and organizations, in partnership with the federal government, aimed at providing assistance during the pandemic.

Among them were Community Living Guelph Wellington, Hospice Wellington, Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, Guelph Community Health Centre, Guelph Tool Library and more.

Though uncertain of the value, the change in policy means getting rid of “three or four” stocks tied to the fossil fuel industry, Willard noted.

The foundation has about $14.4 million of investment assets.

"The Guelph Community Foundation is showing remarkable leadership in how we can fight climate change through investments,"  said Evan Ferrari, executive director of eMERGE Guelph Sustainability, in a news release.

"Profiting from fossil fuels has poured more fuel on the fire of climate change. But now, organizations like the foundation are helping to lead the way in recognizing the environmental, social and financial benefits of fossil fuel divestment." 

In addition, the unanimously approved policy changes will see a number of investments avoided, including nuclear power generation, pornography, weapons manufacturing, pesticides, tobacco, palm oil production, online gambling and non-medical products that rely on single-use plastics, among others.

The foundation had no investments in those areas, Willard notes.

“It means that we’re generating our returns through really strong and good investment, the ethically and morally strong way to do it, to support things that matter in our community,” he said, explaining the investment manager’s previous direction was simply to generate the greatest returns possible.

“It’s a good starting point,” Willard said of the policy changes, acknowledging there may be some additional adjustments in the future. “It’s easy to be overcome with fear in trying to get it perfect the first time and if you’re overcome with that kind of fear … you’ll never take the first step. Is our policy perfect? No, but it is our first step and we will continue to develop and refine it so that it’s meaningful and has the impact that we want.”



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