This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.


Preparing for a pandemic: More vaccine is needed to prepare the world for an influenza pandemic

Preparing for a pandemic
Sep 22nd 2005
From The Economist print edition



More vaccine is needed to prepare the world for an influenza pandemic

IT IS hard to imagine that the aches and pains that most people know as flu could mutate into a superflu that might kill tens of millions of people within two years. And yet, if superflu strikes—as it has done three times in the past century—that is what may well happen. In the global influenza pandemic of 1918, 25m-50m people died. Many scientists now believe that another influenza pandemic is inevitable some time soon.

These concerns might be little more than another background worry if it were not for the fact that there is currently a strain of bird flu in widespread circulation to which humans have no natural immunity. This strain has killed more than 60 people so far, about half the number infected. Small pockets of human-to-human transmission have already been seen, and health officials are worried that the widespread geographical extent of bird flu means that it is not a question of if a strain emerges that can be transmitted easily between humans, but when.

Worried scientists have finally managed to catch the attention of politicians. Last week at the United Nations General Assembly, George Bush announced a new international partnership to address avian and pandemic influenza. World health ministers will meet in Canada next month to discuss how to pool resources, boost surveillance and improve the capacity to contain and respond to an outbreak. The World Health Organisation (WHO) wants more governments to draw up preparedness plans (only 40 have these so far) and agree on how they will co-ordinate their responses.

One leading concern is the scarcity of flu vaccine. Although the WHO's new global stockpile of anti-viral drugs is a good first line of defence, the only sure way of protecting billions of people against superflu is to vaccinate them. Few people would have natural immunity.

It could also take six months from the appearance of the first superflu strain to produce a vaccine. In that time, large numbers of people would be likely to die. Anti-viral drugs rushed to the location of any outbreak might delay its spread by a month. But, even with such a delay, the world is woefully unprepared for a pandemic. Its entire capacity for flu-vaccine production is only 300m shots a year (each containing 15 micrograms of the active ingredient known as antigen). Yet in the case of superflu, several billion people would need vaccination—and they may need two shots at higher doses.

While most people only need one shot of vaccine against chicken pox or measles to have life-long immunity, flu is different. The vaccine must be produced each year from scratch because, each year, the influenza virus changes.

Vaccines are complicated to produce and prone to hit production problems. To make a flu vaccine, the virus must be grown on fertilised chicken eggs without allowing the growth of any other organisms that might contaminate the product. The eggs must be specially produced to assure the health of the hens and the sanitation of supply.

Reliance on eggs is the rate-limiting step in flu-vaccine production. The eggs take weeks to grow. Then the virus is extracted from the cells it has attacked, and inactivated. When the virus is injected into a subject, it stimulates an immune reaction in the form of antibodies, which would protect that person against the real live version of the virus.

Most of the world's flu vaccine is produced in nine countries: Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States. Europe produces 70% of the vaccines. And Europe's vaccine producers are worried. Without international agreements now, they say there is a high risk of inadequate, inequitable and delayed supplies of vaccines. Among public-health officials and vaccine manufacturers, there is a widespread assumption that, during an outbreak, countries with production facilities would declare a national emergency and limit or ban the export of vaccine to other countries. That might be good for people living in the nine countries on the list, but it would leave the rest of the world without any vaccine at all.

Luc Hessel is the director of public affairs at Sanofi Pasteur, a vaccine manufacturer in France. He is also in charge of pandemic influenza at European Vaccine Manufacturers, the vaccine-industry's trade association. He says that the race to prepare for the next strain of superflu is “both a sprint and a marathon”.

The spread of bird flu has recently forced a bit of strategic sprinting. America's National Institutes of Health has paid Sanofi Pasteur and Chiron, a manufacturer based in Emeryville, California, to make prototype vaccines against H5N1, the strain of bird flu that is currently circulating. Should superflu emerge from this bird flu, the hope is that these vaccines would confer enough resistance against the new strain of superflu to save lives. And having a prototype or a pre-approved vaccine would speed the drug-approval process. In Europe, there is no obvious way of funding such short-term development work. Dr Hessel says that the vaccine industry's association is in “close contact” with the European Commission about plugging this obvious gap.

The American work has already produced some important findings. A vaccine has been developed, and the authorities have ordered small amounts to protect some health workers. The most important finding, though, is that large quantities of antigen—the active ingredient—are needed to confer resistance. For protection, two shots of 90 micrograms are needed. At this concentration, America could protect only 5% of its population.

A novel solution to this problem is emerging from European laboratories. Rino Rappuoli, the chief scientific officer at Chiron, is one of those working on a way to make vaccines protective at low doses by delivering the injection along with something called an adjuvant. This makes the vaccine linger at the site where it has been injected, and causes an enhanced immune response. Dr Rappuoli says that if an adjuvant is used, half the normal flu dose would work. This technique could thus be used to double the world's capacity to produce a superflu vaccine.

Adjuvants also appear to stimulate longer-lasting immunity. In work published earlier this year in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, Dr Rappuoli's group studied samples from people involved in a vaccine study after the 1997 outbreak of bird flu in Hong Kong. They found that people who had received adjuvanted vaccine years ago are still significantly immune to the strain of bird flu currently circulating.

The next step is to test a vaccine against H5N1, the current strain of bird flu, with an adjuvant. John Treanor, professor of medicine at the University of Rochester, says that there are three candidate adjuvants. Two are proprietary products (owned by Chiron and GlaxoSmithKline) and so less attractive. The other is alum, a salt containing aluminium. It has been used widely in vaccines, although not in flu vaccines, so development work is needed.

Despite all the promise of adjuvants, some obstacles remain. They can cause mild localised reactions, and they are only licensed for use in flu vaccines in 20 countries, including Italy—where Dr Rappuoli is based and where Chiron has treated 18m people with adjuvanted vaccine. Nevertheless, given their substantial advantages, adjuvants are certainly worth pursuing as a matter of urgency.

Other ideas under scrutiny include ways to use less vaccine at the injection stage, and injecting at different sites to stimulate a greater reaction—such as into the skin itself. But Klaus Stohr, who runs the WHO's global influenza programme, is adamant that the only sure way to answer the unknowns about pandemic influenza is for governments to provide a better environment for flu-vaccine development, and to increase the uptake of seasonal vaccines where this fits in with national health priorities. By this, he means that governments need to buy all of the seasonal vaccine that national health agencies have said would be worthwhile.

It would also help for governments to give the manufacturers more long-term certainty over the amount of vaccine they plan to buy each year. Canada, for example, recently signed a ten-year agreement with a manufacturer for its seasonal vaccine supply, and the country also pays an annual “pandemic readiness fee” which stipulates the company has the capacity to produce 8m doses of vaccine per month for four months.

In the longer term, there will be more options. Flu vaccines could be grown in a vat of cells rather than laboriously in eggs, which would make them easier to produce in volume. And the novel approaches that are today on the drawing board may mean that, one day, neither flu nor superflu would be a problem. Some people are working on a universal vaccine, a shot that is given once and which works for ever against all flu. Others are trying to devise an inhaled drug that coats the cells of the lungs and prevents the virus from gaining access. But this is the work of the superflu marathon runners. Before they reach the finishing line, the sprinters may be called upon.

A tankful of sugar: Has Brazil found the answer to high petrol prices?

A tankful of sugar
From The Economist print edition

Has Brazil found the answer to high petrol prices?

WHILE motorists elsewhere fret about high fuel prices, new-car buyers in Brazil can feel smug. They can fill up with petrol, ethanol (alcohol) or any combination of the two. And right now, ethanol is up to 55% cheaper at the pump in Brazil than regular gasoline.

Brazilians are the beneficiaries of an automotive revolution: “flex-fuel” cars that run as readily on ethanol as on regular petrol were introduced in 2003, and have since grabbed nearly two-thirds of the market. In America some 4.5m vehicles can run on blends of up to 85% ethanol, but that fuel is available only in Minnesota. In Brazil ethanol is everywhere, thanks to a 30-year-old policy of promoting fuel derived from home-grown sugar cane.

Eager for energy independence or lower emissions of greenhouse gases, other countries are now starting to promote “bio-fuels”. But America and Europe favour their own farmers, who produce fuel based on corn or rape-seed that is mainly used as an additive to conventional petrol—and is dirtier and more expensive than Brazil's sugar-based ethanol. So bio-fuelled cars may take years to catch on in other markets.

For Brazil, this is a second try at a failed romance. Prompted by the oil shocks of the 1970s, Brazilian governments used laws and subsidies to promote ethanol-only cars, which had 90% of the market by the late 1980s. But supplies of sugar-based fuel dried up suddenly when planters rushed to meet a surge in demand for sugar. Sales of ethanol-powered cars dropped to nearly zero by 1990—one taxi driver famously set his alight outside Congress.

Flex-fuel cars have persuaded Brazilians to give ethanol a second try. The initiative came from the Brazilian operations of parts suppliers such as Magneti Marelli, owned by Fiat of Italy, and Bosch, a German company. They persuaded the government to extend to flex-fuel cars the tax break previously applied to ethanol-only models. Volkswagen was first to the market, followed quickly by other big manufacturers.

The Brazilian car industry as a whole is struggling. Might exports of flex-fuel cars prove its salvation? Probably not, alas. If the cars become popular outside Brazil, they could easily be made elsewhere. Brazilian parts suppliers are more likely to benefit than car makers. Bosch has sold fuel-supply systems for America's fleet of superfluous flex-fuel cars. Magneti Marelli would probably start by exporting components, but with higher volumes would move towards selling the technology. Brazil's biggest opportunity may be to sell fuel rather than flexibility. Its cost of sugar production is so low that ethanol can compete with petrol even with oil prices at $35 a barrel, about half of today's price.


Carmakers drive for the hybrid vehicle as petrol prices soar: They believe the technology is a dead end but American consumers leave them with no choice.

Carmakers drive for the hybrid vehicle as petrol prices soar

The Sunday Times, 18 September 2005 - They believe the technology is a dead end but American consumers leave them with no choice. Dominic O'Connell and Ray Hutton report from the Frankfurt motor show

Cameron Diaz drives one. So do Julia Roberts and Sting. But hybrid cars, which cut fuel consumption by supplementing ordinary engines with electric power, will soon be much more than fashion accessories for image-conscious stars.

Soaring fuel prices, with petrol zipping past £1 a litre in parts of Britain last week, have changed big car companies' attitudes to hybrids. What was an interesting but costly diversion has suddenly become a must-have technology.

The new vehicles were all the rage at last week's Frankfurt motor show, the biannual jamboree for the world's automotive industry. One by one the big German manufacturers unveiled plans for hybrid cars, each powered by a combination of petrol engine and electric motor. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen all expect to have hybrids available by the end of the decade.

But they, and many of their American rivals, are reluctant innovators. None is approaching the idea with much enthusiasm, grumbling that they regard hybrids as a dead-end technology that does not deliver the savings promised.

All have been driven to hybrids by anticipated demand in America. There, the Toyota Prius has been a runaway success, loved by Hollywood actors and other celebrities who want to show their environmental concerns.

Although the first Prius was an ungainly beast, the latest version is a svelte five-seat saloon that can do 100mph with a combined average fuel consumption of 65.7 miles per gallon and whose exhaust emissions are among the lowest of any car on the road.

It runs on petrol or electricity, or both, and sophisticated computer controls ensure that the batteries are always charged by the petrol engine, so there is no need to plug it into a domestic socket. Toyota has sold almost 6,000 of the cars in Britain since the first version was launched in 2000.

The German manufacturers maintain that diesel engines can achieve comparable, or better, fuel consumption than hybrids. In some countries in Europe, diesels now account for more than 50% of new car sales.

Helmut Panke, BMW's chief executive, said: "I see it (hybrid technology) as a niche application. It has its uses in congested areas, but elsewhere you can achieve results that are as good or better with diesel engines. Why would a farmer in Scotland, or Wyoming, ever want to buy a hybrid?"

But diesel cars have never caught on in America. Even with increased fuel prices after Hurricane Katrina, petrol in America still costs half as much as in Britain, so fuel consumption is less of a concern to those who favour big, heavy 4x4s and pick-up trucks.

And now diesels are being squeezed out of America by the "Tier 2" federal exhaust-emission regulations that will be applied progressively up to 2009.

Unlike Europe, where petrol and diesel engines have different emissions standards, in America both have to meet the same criteria, which includes an ultra-low requirement for particulates (soot) and oxides of nitrogen that are difficult and expensive for car manufacturers to meet with diesels.

For America, as Toyota has shown, the lower consumption, environment-friendly alternative is the hybrid. Earlier this year, two of Detroit's "Big Three" carmakers, General Motors and Daimler Chrysler, agreed to work together on the development of hybrids. The deal had only just been signed when, to everyone's surprise, BMW, Daimler's main rival in Europe, asked if it could also join the party.

BMW and Daimler's Mercedes car division both showed hybrid prototypes at the Frankfurt motor show, but they are of a different type to the "two mode" transmission system devised by GM which is the basis of the trio's joint development. The first production models -likely to be heavyweight 4x4s -are expected in 2009.

The show launch of the Audi Q7, a large, luxury four-wheel drive, was accompanied by a mock-up of a hybrid version with the electric motor and generator sandwiched between the engine and automatic transmission. The Q7 is a version of the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, and both of those will also be offered as hybrids, but not until the end of the decade.

For Porsche this is an important gesture to reduce fuel consumption and carbon-dioxide output. Unlike its partners, the sports car manufacturer is opposed to diesels and prefers to concentrate on improving the efficiency of its petrol engines. It had been expected to do a deal with Toyota, adopting the hybrid drive-line of the Lexus 450h for the Cayenne but has chosen the German solution.

Toyota lost money on every one of the first-generation Prius cars it sold, and analysts said that the latest version does no more than break even. As well as promising to make 1m Toyota and Lexus hybrids a year by 2010, the company has been keen to sell its technology to other carmakers. Its Japanese rival Nissan is using the Toyota hybrid-drive system and Ford was forced to pay a licence fee for the use of Toyota patents in its 4x4 Escape hybrid.

Toyota wants to establish its hybrid system as a standard for the industry because it sees the technology as a half-way house to the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles that most carmakers expect to make the breakthrough as emission-free vehicles in 10 years' time.

But apart from Toyota and Honda -the other hybrid pioneer, which has just announced a hybrid version of its new Civic saloon -manufacturers would rather not be embarking on the hybrid highway. Installing what are, in effect, two power units increases the vehicle's weight, complexity and cost. It may meet the regulations but it does not represent an increase in efficiency.

In America, Ford cannot make enough of the Escape hybrid and will soon have four other models employing the same system.

But Jim Padilla, president of the Ford Motor Company (and in charge of engine development earlier in his career)

said: "Hybrids are a small way of participating in the environmental debate but, economically speaking, you can't justify the cost. The incremental cost to the consumer is $ 3,000 to $ 3,500 (£1,660 to £1,940). Diesels are a much better proposition."

Burkhard Goeschel, head of research and development at BMW, said: "A full hybrid system adds 150kg to the weight of the vehicle. We need to reduce the cost and weight. We are also working on increasing the fuel efficiency of our diesel engines -and even with all the devices needed to meet the new American regulations the cost of those does not reach that of the hybrid."

While presenting two hybrid concepts based on the new Mercedes S-class saloon, Thomas Weber, Goeschel's counterpart at Daimler Chrysler, said: "Our aim is to make diesels as clean as petrol engines and for petrol engines to match the fuel economy of diesels."

Germany's finest are going hybrid but they wish they weren't. Toyota, the world's strongest car company -with a little help from the Hollywood A-list -has set a trend that they cannot ignore.


The Equator Principles: More than Just Good PR

The Equator Principles: More than Just Good PR
By Chris Deri
837 words
2 September 2005

American Banker
Vol. 170, No. 170
(c) 2005 American Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON -- JPMorgan Chase recently made the smart and responsible business decision of subscribing to the World Bank-initiated Equator Principles, committing itself to consider certain environmental and social risk issues in the deals it finances. In doing so it joined Citigroup and 32 other financial institutions.

One spur to their decisions was campaigning by various nongovernmental organizations, often spearheaded by the Rainforest Action Network. Rainforest activists trailed Sandy Weill around the globe, unfurling banners and brandishing cream pies. They also traipsed through the leafy Greenwich suburb of JPMorgan Chase CEO William Harrison stapling "Wanted: Dead or Alive" posters carrying his image.

Campaigning can and does have an impact on what companies do. But when activists assault them with shrill moral arguments about "corporate responsibility," two things occur:

* The activists lose (or never achieve) focus on the business case for responsible corporate behavior.

* The companies risk myopia and view corporate responsibility as PR, missing out on valuable strategic opportunities.

The purpose of the Equator Principles is to ensure that the projects banks finance "are developed in a manner that is socially responsible and reflect sound environmental management practices."

The issues addressed are not easy. However, the solutions and mechanisms proffered are not so rigid as to be unrealistic. And responsibility and accountability are shared by a number of players.

Unfortunately activists often frame this nuanced reality with simplistic rhetoric, which is compounded by an instinct among many banks, particularly in the U.S., to duck and cover.

Companies shouldn't capitulate to every criticism, but failing to anticipate them allows others -- including competitors -- to define problems and develop solutions.

Bankers who want to bring an Equator Principles perspective to their strategy should consider the following:

You are enablers. Investment bankers got their wish -- they truly are masters of the universe. And everyone knows it. One clear legacy of post-bubble shareholder litigation is that in the drama of notorious deals, banks are seen not as neutral matchmakers but as complicit co-conspirators.

The rules are being made up right now -- with or without you. Ultimately each company decides for itself whether it will address social and environmental issues, what is ethical and doable, or how it might change business practices.

Strategic planning should not be driven by external pressure or timetables. Nor should decision-making be so cloistered that it loses touch with the debate going on around you.

The Equator Principles not only raise awareness of relevant issues but include dialogue about day-to-day practices and measurement criteria for a "right way" and a "wrong way."

Your clients care. The Equator Principle issues are also strongly connected to the environmental and social components of international trade agreements, as well as to valuation criteria for an increasing number of institutional investors, such as Calpers.

Finally, according to a survey by Stanford and the University of California, Santa Barbara, a significant number of new MBAs "were willing to give up some financial benefits to work for an ethical, socially responsible organization."

China. Over the last 20 years China's dismal labor standards and shoddy environmental record have consistently made it a flashpoint for accusations of corporate social irresponsibility.

However, as Marc Gunther recently reported in Fortune, China's emerging leadership seems genuinely concerned about the environmental impact of development. Evidence includes the embrace of "green" building standards and of auto fuel economy standards stricter than ours, as well as major investments in clean-coal technology.

Global banks hunting for business have invested heavily in establishing credibility with the Chinese government. Demonstrably greener finance partners would probably have a leg up with concerned official decision makers.

The principles won't make for worse deals. At their core, they simply suggest a new dimension to due diligence. Being part of something unsavory is as real a risk as losing money. Due diligence in one area is often a reliable proxy for others, and most investors would welcome more transparency on any facet of a project.

Think about a company's media and investor relations efforts. Is the ultimate objective one great story or one glowing analyst report? No. Media and investor relations strategies seek to establish a continuum of credibility.

Similarly, companies must manage social and environmental issues with strategies that aren't responses to a specific eruption.

An engagement approach must fit a company's culture and not compromise competitive advantages, but it also requires spending time with skeptics and even antagonists. The absence of discourse will perpetuate animosity; engagement at least opens the possibility of dissipating it.

Subscribing to the Equator Principles is not just a way to avoid having the CEO "pied" at the next confab of global elites. It helps businesses succeed and grow.

Mr. Deri is a senior vice president in New York in the corporate responsibility practice of Edelman, a global public relations firm.

(c) 2005 American Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

BANK OF MONTREAL - Adopts Equator Principles

BANK OF MONTREAL - Adopts Equator Principles
334 words
15 September 2005

Market News Publishing
Copyright 2005 Market News Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved

BMO Financial Group today announced it has adopted the Equator Principles, a voluntary set of environmental and social guidelines adopted by leading banks for project financing.

The Equator Principles apply to projects with a capital cost of US$50 million or more in all industry sectors. Established in 2002, they are based on guidelines set by the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group that promotes sustainable, private sector investment in developing countries as a way to reduce poverty and improve people's lives.

"Joining other leading companies in adopting the Equator Principles supports our long-standing commitment to the environment and our pledge to act in the interests of our shareholders, our customers, our employees, our communities and our future," said Karen Maidment, Senior Executive Vice- President and Chief Financial Officer.

BMO Financial Group is a signatory to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Statement by Financial Institutions on the Environment & Sustainable Development and is a signatory of the Carbon Disclosure Project, a coalition of institutional investors that provides a secretariat for the world's largest institutional investor collaboration on the business implications of climate change. BMO's commitment to corporate citizenship has been recognized by its inclusion in the FTSE4Good Index and its receipt of the Corporate Knights' Best Corporate Citizen of the Year Award in 2005.

Since 1817, BMO Financial Group has supported the principles of community reinvestment and corporate and social responsibility to the communities it serves. BMO Financial Group contributed more than CDN$29 million in corporate donations, sponsorships and events in 2004, supporting thousands of communities, charities and not-for-profit organizations in Canada.

Money and morality: Canadians putting billions into so-called socially responsible investments

Money and morality Canadians putting billions intoso-called socially responsible investments
Geoff Kirbyson
1,269 words
18 September 2005

Winnipeg Free Press
All material copyright Winnipeg Free Press, a division of FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership. All rights reserved.

Geoff Kirbyson Tired of feeling that you're too insignificant to make a dent in the growth of companies and industries that you find ethically offensive? Then let your investments do the walking.

It's called socially responsible investing, or SRI for short, and through the screening processes set up by its providers, you can invest your money safe in the knowledge that it won't be going toward companies that make gazillions of dollars in industries such as tobacco, weapons, nuclear power or liquor.

You can also avoid firms with sub-par community involvement, poor environmental-impact policies and practices, human-rights abuses or those that sell unsafe products.

The most well-known means of socially responsible investing in Canada is through The Ethical Funds Company, a Vancouver-based outfit with 13 mutual funds and more than $2 billion in investor assets.

But according to Eugene Ellmen, executive director of the Social Investment Organization (SIO), a national trade association for SRI, you don't have to limit yourself there because income trusts, corporate bonds and individual stock accounts that screen out undesirables can also be bought.

"It's right across the board, virtually any kind of security from a socially responsible point of view," he says.

He says the SRI universe, while still a niche in the grand scheme of things, is significant and growing. According to its most recent review of the sector, there were $65.5 billion worth of Canadian assets being managed according to social or environmental guidelines in 2004, up from $51 billion in 2002.

About one-quarter of those totals is from retail investors like you and me, while the rest is represented by large institutional players, such as pension funds.

Ellmen says the link between Canadians' consciousness of the social and environmental impacts from their consumer decisions and those of their investments is growing stronger by the day.

For example, he says almost every grocery store has an organic food section and manufacturers of fuel-efficient hybrid cars can hardly keep up with the demand.

"People are becoming more aware of how they can purchase products and services that help the environment and the world rather than hurt it. The same thing goes for their investments," he says.

Bob Walker, vice-president of sustainability at Ethical Funds, agrees and predicts SRI is ready to take off in the mainstream, if given the proper nudge. The company has hired three wholesalers whose job it is to expand distribution of its funds outside its current channel, Canada's credit union system. He says he's optimistic there will be progress on this front in time for the 2006 RRSP season.

"We're trying to build partnerships, but by no means are we ignoring the credit union system. We believe there's more appetite (among credit union members) for SRI. We have consumers who are concerned about the environment, but right now not enough of them are connecting those concerns with their investment portfolio. If we can help them make that connection, we think SRI is going to grow very quickly," he says.

Ellmen says the industry is doing its best to educate financial advisers on the merits of SRI, including hosting 200 of them at a conference in Toronto a couple of months ago, because its surveys have shown that up to 50 per cent of Canadians would be interested in SRI for a variety of reasons. But with just 300,000 investors across the country, the industry is a long way from reaching that kind of market penetration.

Ellmen says much of the problem lies in the fact that relatively few advisers are fully up to speed on the sector.

"Advisers have existing relationships with other mutual fund companies, so maybe they're not interested in learning more about SRI. We feel average Canadian investors are being poorly served by investment advisers in Canada. We want to see what we can do as an industry to educate them and help them service Canadians better," Ellmen says.

Of course, for many investors, the rubber hits the road with performance. Quite simply, are they putting their money in socially responsible investments to be a good citizen and ease their conscience, or are they actually going to make some profits to help fund their retirement?

The numbers on both sides of the border show a virtual saw-off between SRI and conventional investing.

In Canada, the Jantzi Social Index, the five-year-old benchmark for SRI in Canada, has returned 35.9 per cent for the five years ended July 31, compared to 35.0 per cent for the Toronto Stock Exchange's composite index. Over the last three years, it returned 5.7 per cent versus the TSX's 5.5 per cent.

The Domini 400 Social Index, the 15-year-old benchmark for SRI in the United States, has performed similarly, moving in virtual lockstep with the S&P 500, the largest index in the country. Over the last decade, it returned 10.4 per cent compared to the S&P's 9.9 per cent. The numbers are similar for one year (10.1 per cent for the Domini versus 12.6 per cent for the S&P), three years (11.7 per cent versus 12.0 per cent) and five years (-2.9 per cent versus -2.7 per cent).

"The numbers certainly support our view that over the long term, SRI can do as well as conventional investing," Ellmen says.

But SRI is more than investments, it's also about investing in your community. Winnipeg's Assiniboine Credit Union offers something called "The Jubilee Fund," a community development loan fund that provides money to community-based businesses, housing projects and other social enterprises to help "overcome social disparities and equalize human opportunity."

Al Morin, CEO of ACU, says Jubilee is not unlike a guaranteed investment certificate, or GIC, but the rate of return is discounted slightly so some of the proceeds can go towards the fund's administrative costs.

He says the myth that investors are foregoing a better rate of return when they put money in SRI is just that, a myth.

"We're finding the better companies are adapting very progressive governance practices, looking at employee relationships and are more concerned with good community relations and the environment. Those that practise this seem to naturally generate good profits," he says.

He doesn't need to persuade Sid Baumel, co-editor of the Aquarian, a progressive alternative publication focused on, among other things, the environment. He's been gradually putting more money in SRI since the late '90s and he recently invested in The Jubilee Fund.

"I'm still governed by bottom line considerations. Some SRI investments do well, some don't," he says. "I like to diversify my portfolio and one of the elements of that diversity is SRI."

He says when he looks at a potential investment, he weighs its potential to generate a positive return, but also whether it's a good company in terms of both what it does and how it does it.

"Every time I make an investment now, I think about that," he says. "I think every choice one makes, either as a consumer, investor or citizen, you reflect on what the wider impact is. Most choices have a ripple effect that isn't obvious at all. I'm simply trying to live more conscientiously," he says.