How to get started with Socially Responsible Investing.

As social justice and climate issues become more of a concern for many, decisions around how we shop, eat, and live are often being made with our community responsibility in mind. 

For those thinking about how to align their values with their spending, Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) can be an important piece of the puzzle. It considers both financial return and social and environmental impact, giving investors the opportunity to make more conscious investment decisions.

There are a variety of approaches for socially responsible and sustainable investing — and often the best place to begin is to understand your values and priorities. Where do you go from there? Follow these four steps to help kick off your SRI journey. 

1. Get clear on what matters most to you. 

You don’t have to choose between your long-term financial goals and investing in responsibly managed companies — with the options available today, you can make investment decisions that will lead to good financial outcomes as well as have a positive impact. And you can take it one step further, by defining when and how you might prioritize one over the other. Whether you’re driven more by performance or purpose, and build your portfolio accordingly. 

Taking time to reflect on your values can also help you invest in a more meaningful way. Where do you stand when it comes to environmental responsibility, social impact, and corporate governance? What matters most to you? Are there things that you absolutely will not tolerate when it comes to investments? If you take a look at your lifestyle and the areas you tend to focus on most, this can provide a roadmap for your investment decisions. For example, if you’re committed to reducing waste and are living a “green” lifestyle, you may not want to invest in companies that are causing harm to the planet. If you’re committed to shopping locally, supporting small, women-owned, BIPOC-owned businesses, you may want to look for funds that have a similar mandate. 

Not totally sure where you stand? There is a wealth of resources online that can help. For example,  BMO’s MyESG™ is an easy, interactive tool that helps you recognize your approach to investing, get clear on what you value, and determine what kind of investor you are. 

2. Determine how your current portfolio aligns with those values. 

If you’re investing by purchasing individual stocks, you probably know exactly what’s in your portfolio. Many of us use investment vehicles that group a broad basket of stocks from a variety of companies together — like with a mutual fund, exchange traded fund (ETF), or index fund. This means you could be inadvertently investing in companies that manufacture weapons or tobacco, have environmentally detrimental impacts, or don’t pay their manufacturers a living wage. 

You can find information online about the stocks held in funds, but a financial professional can help you look more closely at your existing portfolio, determine where you’d like to make a change, and direct you toward more socially responsible choices. If you’re serious about only investing in companies that align with your values, there are a number of investment products that are specifically designed to help you do this, which can take a lot of the research and guesswork out of the equation. 

3. Understand the various ways you can make investment decisions.

It is often assumed that socially responsible investing means excluding stocks or companies based on their practices or ethics — and virtually all SRI avoids investment in sectors that are detrimental to the environment and are deemed to have an adverse effect on society — but not investing in certain industries is just one part of the equation. 

Investors may also consider positive inclusion, which means investing in stocks that promote a social benefit such as green energy, healthcare technology, and sustainable manufacturing. Thematic investing is another form of SRI where a portfolio is made up of companies that all focus on a similar theme, such as BIPOC-owned businesses or sustainable food production, for example. 

4. Know the investment approaches available to you.  

Depending on your goals and needs, the approach you take to sustainable investing can differ slightly — so it’s a good idea to know the difference between the investing strategies available to you. ESG funds, for example, use a framework that considers three factors when selecting which companies to support: environmental (the effects on the earth), social (the impact on society), and governance (how the company is run). The priority here however remains financial return. Impact Funds require every investment to have a positive social or environmental impact, giving increased priority to advancing social goals, even before financial gain. 

You can also decide between working with an investment professional or taking a DIY approach through a self-directed account. Depending on the route you take, the products that are available can change. For example, with an investment professional you can gain access to ESG solutions such as the newly launched BMO Sustainable Portfolios, a professionally managed suite of portfolios that invest in companies committed to ESG outcomes. If you are looking to add ESG ETFs to your self-directed portfolio, BMO has expanded the range of ESG ETFs including the BMO Balanced ESG ETF (ZESG)

As Socially Responsible Investing continues to gain momentum in the US and Canada, the number of products available is growing — but before you get to making those detailed decisions, don’t skip the self-reflection needed to know if taking a values-based approach to investing is right for you, and the ideal way to approach it to meet your goals. If you’re in doubt, it’s always best to ask a professional for guidance. 

Meet Connie Down-Cicoria, Founding Shareholder & Executive Chair of the Board of AERIUM Analytics Inc.

Connie Down-Cicoria is a serial entrepreneur, with a long career focused primarily in the Oil and Gas, Mining, Telecommunications, and Forest Industries. She founded Lorrnel Consultants in 1982, Ever Green Land Use Consulting in 1991, and Evolution Geomatic’s in 2013. Her latest venture, incorporated in 2016, is AERIUM Analytics — North America’s leading provider of RPAS based geospatial and compliance solutions. AERIUM builds upon nearly 40 years of experience from it’s co-founders and sister company as part of the Lorrnel Group. Connie also manages a ranch in southern Alberta where she raises and trains cutting horses and cattle. Over the years, she has helped develop environmental procedures to reduce the footprint of industrial activities in Alberta. 

 

My first job ever was… Cashier at a convenience store at age 15.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…I found working for others limited my abilities. I always wanted to run my own business.  An opportunity presented itself to start my own business in the Oil and Gas industry in Calgary in 1982, so I took it.

My boldest move to date was Buying out my partner when the company was losing money during the COVID pandemic. We are now in negotiations with a client only 7 months later for a 5-year contract and are positioned to have our best year to date.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t knowThat in 1979 I was a poor single mother working for the Alberta government not making enough money to make ends meet.  My home was a small apartment close to work so I could walk there.  My furniture consisted of a bed with coffee cans for legs, my baby’s dresser consisted of apple boxes stacked on top of each other, my kitchen table legs were held on with electrical tape and my sofa was a fold out cot.  I had to borrow money every month from my parents to pay my bills and by 1982 I had moved to Calgary and started my own company in the Oil Patch.

When starting my business, I wish I knew What I know today! Trust my instincts and to believe in myself more.  Being an entrepreneurial woman in the 80’s was tough because you were surrounded by men that kept telling you that you couldn’t do it.  There were very few women in business back then, but I searched them out and relied on their support. 

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is…  Most people hate change, but change is important to any company that wants to succeed.  We can either lead change or let change lead us, which can eventually disempower or make your company vulnerable.  Just do it.  Have no fear and don’t weaken.

I stay inspired by… By constantly exposing myself to new technology and looking for opportunities.  By staying physically active, working with my children, and surrounding myself by smart/motivated people it is easy to stay inspired.  I love business.

The future excites me because… I believe we can change the future of the world by making it a safer place for humans and animals alike through innovation and technology.  

Success to me means… Being able to live a healthy, active, balanced life with financial stability while having fun.

Meet Charlene Brophy, President & CEO of Fonemed

Charlene Brophy is President and CEO of FONEMED. For 20 years, she’s guided the company through stellar growth both domestically and internationally and led the development of Fonemed’s Health Management Platform, embracing technology as a means of providing scalable, sustainable, and accessible care. A speaker and author, Charlene has been honoured with several awards, and is an active board member for several non-profit organizations, and two government innovation advisory councils.

 

My first job ever wasan untrained health care aide in a seniors home. That’s where I learned the joy that comes from helping those who could not help themselves. It’s a feeling that resides in the heart of every nurse.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… the time was right to address the bottleneck in accessing health care services in a system struggling to deal with a surge in demand for care related to an aging demographic. 

My boldest move to date was… moving our corporate office from California to St. John’s, NL. If I had it wrong, I wouldn’t be answering these questions today. But I knew I could build a team here at home, that would share my passion and make my vision of Fonemed become reality.  I am so proud to give back to the community and the province that has supported me, growing an international business, offering hundreds of employment opportunities, right here, at home.

My biggest setback was… my greatest motivation. That’s cliché, but it’s accurate. There have been many failures over the years. I truly view every setback – big or small – professional or personal – to be an opportunity to make a positive change.

I overcame it by… trusting my gut, always doing what is necessary to keep focus on quality of care and supporting and encouraging the team that represents our company to the world.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that in spite of my business success, I am still a nurse at heart and I care deeply about people – family and friends, employees, clients, community partners, and the people I meet daily. I love the business I am in because at Fonemed, we bring healthcare to people when they need it most.  Helping people is what it is all about.    

When starting my business, I wish I knew… how tough it could be to take on the old boys’ club. There were times when I asked if it was worth the bother, but I never asked that same question after each win. I’m very proud of the women who challenge the status quo as tough as it is. That’s how meaningful change occurs; by having the courage to persevere. 

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… be curious. You cannot disrupt anything without first asking why something is what it is.

I stay inspired by… my ridiculously passionate team. They dream big right alongside me. The world is out there, and they have the determination to offer access to care, for anyone, anywhere, anytime.  

The future excites me because… of the new possibilities in the digital health space, the pandemic has accelerated both the adoption and demand for virtual care. The sky is the limit now.

Success to me means… making positive changes in the lives of people who sometimes feel they are on their own, without adequate healthcare, without anyone to care.  Offering access to care to individuals and families, making a difference, to me that’s success.  

Meet Michele Romanow, Co-Founder & President of Clearco

Michele Romanow

Michele Romanow is currently the President of lending firm Clearco (formerly Clearbanc), which she co-founded in 2015. In the same year, Michele became the youngest Dragon on Dragons’ Den, a testament to her experience and success as an entrepreneur (she started six companies before her 35th birthday). Clearco has since achieved “unicorn” status — a valuation over $1 Billion US — and has invested more than $2B into 4,500+ companies, making them the biggest ecommerce investor in the world. Michele has been honoured with several awards, sits on many boards, and co-founded the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative, a non-profit with international business magnate Sir Richard Branson, to encourage growth of women entrepreneurs.

 

 My first job ever was… doing admin in my Dad’s office. It’s where I first learnt to become very valuable to people at an early age.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I thought it was the biggest way to make an impact

My boldest move to date was… spending all the money had left on 1 ad at Buytopia to see if it would work. Being crazy enough to go up again the VC industry and to believe we could build a new asset class.

My biggest setback was… having lost friends along the way

I overcame it by… learning from my mistakes

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know…  

When starting my business, I wish I knew…  how little I would sleep

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… Just start! And don’t listen to the detractors.

I stay inspired by…  the founders we fund through Clearco and hearing all their stories.

The future excites me because… there are so many people becoming first time entrepreneurs. 

Success to me means…  doing what other people thought was impossible.