Calgary probably owes more to the oil sands than any city in Canada. So it’s a little odd that it may become the first to proclaim investing in those projects unethical. That possibility emerged last week, when Calgary aldermen looked into adopting socially responsible investing, or SRI, an increasingly popular investing approach that eschews “unethical” practices such as child labour, weapons manufacturing and excessive emissions.
If Calgary adopts the SRI philosophy for its $2.5-billion portfolio, it will raise a tough question for a city that’s home to the headquarters of such energy giants as EnCana and Petro-Canada: do the oil sands, the fastest growing generator of greenhouse gases in Canada, constitute an ethical investment? Ald. Joe Ceci, for one, isn’t so sure. “We should be able to say to Calgarians that we’re investing in things that are contributing to a positive world,” he argues. “If environmental factors on some of the companies out there are less than sustainable, then we should not be investing in those areas.”
A finance committee vote on whether the city should seek an appropriate SRI framework produced a tie, forcing the matter to city council this week. It’s a contentious issue. “We’re looking at the lowest risk, the highest return,” says Ald. Linda Fox-Mellway, who worries that no rules exist to determine what makes an investment ethical. “If we start getting involved in strictly the environmental piece, we can really limit our returns.”
Still, proponent Ald. Druh Farrell argues that by establishing rules for suitable investments, the city might actually encourage some of the oil sands outfits to go green. “Some companies are better than others in how they treat the environment,” she says. “These are things that we can have some influence on by how we invest.”