June 2016
Cary Krosinsky

Why Montreal is the Capital of Sustainable Investing in North America

Just back from a typically invigorating trip to Montreal, where it is abundantly clear that sustainable investing is deep within the DNA of the city.  In fact, many are not aware that Montreal is in many ways the capital of North America on sustainable investing.

Montreal is by definition alive and positive, as anyone who visits will quickly recognize.  The city's vibrant nature expresses itself not only through its art and welcoming culture, but also in the typical dynamism and positive intellect of its inhabitants and their often new businesses and exciting lives.

Not everyone lives the high life in the province of Quebec, and this is also very well understood across Montreal's many cultures, which help make the city a solutions and systems focused place.  How does this connect to sustainable investing? Here are just a few examples. 

1)   Concordia University in Montreal has long been a leader on sustainable investing through its David O'Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise (DOCSE) which is actively performing a series of fascinating research projects that are too long to list in a short piece.  Thomas Walker who heads up DOCSE and I are finishing an MBA class now on Sustainable Financial Management just now, with students developing an eclectic, fascinating series of projects to possibly advance their careers after having reviewed both corporate and investor practices.  

Many other interesting related classes are on offer, much more than you see at so-called top ranked (and less affordable) business schools. Their Distinguished Speaker Series is excellent as have been past webinars and roundtables (including a high level one just two days ago) which we are fortunate to have had a chance to participate in. And they will be contributing to our forthcoming third book on sustainable investing. Phew. Then there is Future Earth, headed up by the thoughtful and dynamic Paul Shrivastava, the former head of DOCSE, which brings tens of thousands of scientists together around finding tough solutions to intractable sustainability challenges.  Montreal is up for solving challenges both great and small. Can you say this about Harvard and Boston?

2)   Then you have the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, one of Canada's largest Pension Funds, filled with thoughtful people working on sustainable investing issues as hard as any pension fund you will find.  You can see this manifesting in many ways: in their Infrastructure investment program, which will bring much needed positive benefit to the Montreal area, and in their shareholder engagement and ESG integration and risk assessment capabilities.  

As you get to know their excellent people, you realize they have the important combination of the right culture, know how, experience and desire to do the best they can.  Can you say this about many State and City Pension Funds in the US?

3)   You also have many other amazing thought leaders in Montreal, many of whom I will do an injustice by not mentioning. Here's one example I will mention.

Geoff Moore, soon to be with State Street Global Advisors via their recent acquisition of some of GE's financial assets, was interviewed back in 2011 on his vision and work on Impact Investing for Forbes on the Potential for Impact Investing.  Way ahead of his time, we are all just starting to catch up to Geoff and his innovative investment visions, but that's Montreal, rich with positive solution seekers who we should have listened to earlier, but there's no time like the present.  

4)   Not impressed yet?  How about this report just out today from the McConnell Foundation, the first in a series on what they are calling Solutions Finance.

Taking the next step beyond early experimentation on having impact with one's investment dollar, the McConnell Foundation notes that "Successful systems innovation requires adequate resourcing and calls for new forms of capital allocation across the multiple stages of design and implementation. In many cases, systems innovation models mature from needing philanthropic dollars to developing solid business models that would allow them to partner with large mainstream investors. However, as we know, market and social system inefficiencies continue to prevent taking innovative models to scale to fulfill their full potential. This is why the Foundation is shifting its focus to Solutions Finance, an integrated approach to deploying financial capital and adapting financial models to catalyze, sustain and scale systems transformation."  

Do yourself a favor and read Erica Barbosa Vargas's LinkedIn Blog from today on this exciting and brand new body of work.

5)  Do you need more? There's more.

Montreal has long formed a vibrant, active community around the nexus of corporate sustainability and investing, known as the FSI or the Finance and Sustainability Initiative (or Initiative Finance Durable/IFD in French).

Check out their website linked above for all they do, but I think the summary of who and what they are says it best:

"Responsible investment is not a revolution but rather an evolution in how to analyze, select, and manage investments by integrating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria in order to achieve better long-term returns, contribute to the sustainability of companies and financial markets, and promote a more stable and inclusive world economy. Today, responsible investment is emerging as a best practice in the field of finance."

In my experience, this is exactly where we find ourselves in his field, with sustainable/responsible/ESG strategies emerging as best and essential practice within all levels of global finance, and Montreal has been one step ahead, with an established and experienced community of professionals who have often kindly welcomed me in many times.

I could go on and on, but you should probably see what I do by now.


A visit to Montreal always feels like coming home.

I've traveled to every city in North America over the past 5-10 years that has any semblance of sustainability. There is no question in my mind that Montreal is the beating heart of sustainable investing in North America.