Thursday, February 28, 2008

more grabbin your green

Ethical investments are the new black for many, especially those who make regular contributions to an RRSP. To be sure, return on investment is a key factor in deciding, but for those of us out there who have leafed through company litterature...okay, pamphlets, or read banking websites trying to make sense of clustered investments like mutual funds and RRSPs, information on the ethical standing of companies included isn't out there in the open.

Also, everyone has different and equally valuable ethical standards by which to judge a company or business practice. So how does one person apply those standards to a fund? Several options are now available.

The Ethical Canadian Index is an excellent place to start if you want funds that can perform, but also meet vigourous social standards. The index is related to funds in the TSX and their financial information is maintained by Standard & Poor. From there, the Sustainability Scorecard (I love this) measures the environmental, social and governance indicators of a company and compares it to the rest of the industry. From that basis, further elimination is done of companies whose main business focus is unethical such as tobacco, firearms manufacturers and uranium mining companies. This is basically everything I've ever wanted in a stock index, as my personal beliefs will indeed drive the direction of my cashflow (limited as it may be).

But not everyone looks first and foremost to the same indicators I will. What if your main concern is that businesses in whom you invest agree with your religious principles? How are their employees and partners treated? There are now very aggressive religious funds available for the devout investor.

frontierALT Oasis Funds offer excellent returns with global investments based on shari'ah principles. The concept of sukuk allows for return on investment from profits in the companies invested without interest. Interest is not permisable in Shari'ah ethics, and so this fund has a way around it for investors who insist on getting a return, but not by compromising beliefs.

Advisors with Purpose is a network of Christian financial advisers who steer investments in projects and companies who agree with Christian ethics. Their website is not as information-rich as frontierALT Oasis, but there are still strong mentions of the treatment of your fellow man, that includes living wages for employees in developing countries, and environmental sustainability.

There are many others, but the point is that now it is easier to be mindful of investments. Instead of having to open an investment account or pay broker fees and then monitor each separate company for business practices and projects with which you may or may not agree, RRSPs and mutual funds are available for the socially and environmentally conscious, at an equivalent return.

Grab your green girls, and should anyone come across a business or project directly related to the promotion of women worldwide and/or companies run by women, the indicators in all three funds I just mentioned do not evaluate the status of women in the companies or the effects on women that company projects will have. It's a great start, now we just have to remind ever-greening Bay street that sustainability includes fellow-persons, not just fellow-men.

It's not their money!

The current Ministry of Heritage is reviewing Bill C-10 which would effectively allow the government to refuse funding for Canadian cultural projects if they are too 'racy'. The disturbingly broad definition of 'racy' in this case includes material that is too graphic either in sexual content or in terms of violence. The current definition of obscenity and pornography in the criminal code are sufficient insofar as they preclude funding of criminal projects. Any other project should be open to Canadian funding.

The govt's response? Again mixing up the country with an investment bank, a Toronto lawyer argued that they should be able to exercise 'discretion' and choose not to invest their money in a project they don't agree with.

Their money.

Here's the difference between a country and a private investment firm: a private investment firm is made up of principle shareholders who review projects based on their own criteria, usually centred around ROI, but also including their specific goals. A country is a public citizenry whose values and beliefs have coalesced over time. The money in a private investment firm is, well, private, and the money a country's government is disposed to distribute is public. The shareholders in a country are the citizens.

The current government who I hope will crash and burn on at least one of the confidence motions headed for us, is not disposed to make decisions of taste with public money. There is no discretionary latitude for the department of Heritage to use as relating to feel-goodery, and who ever said officials should not have to administer funding to those things of which they disapprove? If I have to fund from my own pocket the purchases of T.A.S.E.R.s for public police, the tax breaks that corporations and investors enjoy under this government and the salary of a Prime Minister and Cabinet for whom I did not vote, they are overwhelmingly obligated to fund cultural projects in this country (at least!) that might be seen by some as distasteful.

Guys, it's not your money.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

the morning after

Two delightful alternatives to the insulting, depressive budget proposed yesterday:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

White Trash Groceries

I went out this evening to the grocery store to pick up some items I forgot to get earlier. It only occurred to me now that they all fit into a certain category. As I unpack my canvas bag in my kitchen, a small dismay passes over me. I needed something for my bathtub drain, so the main focus of my purchases was merit selection drain opener, which they were out of, so I got regular drano. The cheapest they had was gel plus. No-name easy-tie kitchen garbage bags and no-name paper towels round out my purchases from the corrosion aisle, also dedicated to cat and dog foods. I rounded out the trip with three packets of coin rolls in the one cent denomination as this evening I possess only enough mental capacity to roll coins, a package of merit selection chocolate fudge pudding and a six pack of Sleeman Silver Creek, affordably priced at 8,99$. I would have left it there, but as I waited to pay I couldn't help but pick up and read a french paparazzi magasine about Britney Spears. As I put it back I noticed a package of cheddar cheese sitting on top of the chocolate bars and realized I meant to get cheese but didn't. It is now in one drawer of my fridge since I didn't feel like going back for refrigerated cheese when I could easily rescue this one that comes with the added thrill of having no idea how long it has been sitting there.

I noticed my purchases at this moment and now I will go into the other room, order take out and start rolling pennies. and wait for inspiration to hit...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Open Source Ho!

And where is Elonex releasing this masterpiece? I couldn't have chosen a more appropriate venue:)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kids Eat Crayons


Say, who's that sax player whose head is obscured by the high-tech lighting arrangements on stage?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

more notes from a cube

Here is a little anecdote that my friends and I commiserate on even to this day. In the realm of project management, there are always common grounds to meet on. The IT guys tell me sometimes about difficulty understanding service calls because the people who need service don't have the vocabulary to describe a tech problem. (Occasionally they don't have the vocabulary to describe their four-year-old's most recent belching achievement, but that is not for me to judge). Sometimes I can get together with the Loss Prevention (cop-wannabes) staff because the people on the front line generally don't want to go the extra mile and actually tell you about something that happens. For my money though, there's nothing like Construction for people taking things into their own hands and failing entirely to call a professional.

Case in point: For several years I received phone calls and emails on a myriad of topics such as faulty wiring, changes to landlord-owned gas lines, faulty heating or cooling systems, etc. Many of these requests are routine, so I thought nothing of it when I received an email about a light fixture that wasn't working. Something jumped out at me though, the requestor mentioned that she had tried everything before sending the email, turning the light on and off again, checking the breaker, getting a potato, trying to change the bulb. It was the potato that I found strange, and I asked my cohort if she had ever recommended such a thing. You know, policy developed before I got hired. If a light fixture stops working, find the nearest root vegetable and make sure, make absolutely sure not to use the same one twice. I called the store with the fixture problem and tried to get a handle on why a potato might equate success in this endeavour. Apparently in the nineteen fifties when most bulbs were incandescent and women didn't venture far from the kitchen, if a light bulb broke and the metal contact got stuck in the fixture, the safe way for a lady to get it out was to grab a potato, cut it in half, shove it onto the offending metal (the potato grounds you) and unscrew the rest of the lamp safely.

It is no longer nineteen fifty. Potatoes are not readily available in clothing stores, so this girl actually went as far as going to get a potato. That's a long time to think about what you're doing and wonder if it's a good idea. The bulbs used in most commercial environments are full of various gasses that probably shouldn't be mixed with starchy vegetables. The fixture too should probably remain clean and free of potato peelings. I take these things in stride. Why if it weren't for this girl getting in over her head with the potato solution, I wouldn't have a job after all. I told her how to get the fixture itself down from the track with a simple click and shipped her a new one while the one she had would have the socket replaced. Problem solved right?

No. The managers all talk to each other, so before this girl starts her own confidential potato tip-line, I need to nip this in the bud. I sat composing an email to the district manager wondering how to word what would be circulated without calling this girl stupid or old-fashioned or any of the things that though applicable, are not professional. I settled on foreign objects. It is not a good idea to attempt to remove broken pieces from a light fixture with any foreign object. Call the number, if we can walk you through it we will, if it takes a repair tech, we'll send someone. The first thing that went through my mind in this whole episode was me. Did I misjudge this girl? Have I misread the email? Is there some secret potato pact I'm not a part of? When we asked a few other women at work they acted as though we had missed some vital part of childhood education that we didn't immediately think to shove half a potato into every offending light fixture we saw. It became a cult with us. When something doesn't look right, or we have a question that might sound stupid or obvious, the first thing we say to each other is, "I have a potato question." To this day I can call one of my best friends at any time of the day when something weakens me. When something I would never have considered shows up and I have to deal with it. When I can't think of what words apply to the stupid stupid situation I'm now in charge of fixing, I open my email and send it along to the girl now managing these requests for another company. And in the subject line: What do you mean a potato?