Here in B.C., we think about how our actions affect our community. We watch how we consume and recycle, we shop locally, we compost, and we’re concerned about our effects on the planet.
I say “we” because we know from a recent poll that in B.C. 98% of us say we recycle all or some of the time; 89% of us read ingredients to make healthy food choices, and 52% of us commute in an environmentally responsible way. A third of us say that we research the ethics of companies we are considering purchasing from.
I’ve noticed at conferences and gatherings that there are many colleagues in the credit union movement who don’t get into politics, and at times that’s a lovely respite from all the arguing. We all want to see our communities increase their self-reliance. Whether you’re into it because you like to see a non-governmental actor dive into the solution or because you see the need for progressive financial institutions shoring up what should be the government’s responsibility, we are working for common goals.
In this uncertain time we are entering, our core values are likely to be pressured and many of the people we’re here to serve will need increased support. We need to have healthy discussion in the movement about our purpose. Our “why.”
I came across this excellent five-part podcast from NPR’s On The Media about poverty in America called Busted: America’s Poverty Myths. I believe this should be required listening to any of us who believe in the core purpose of a credit union to increase the financial inclusion of our neighbours. What would result if groups of people in your co-operatives listened to this and came together, book-club style to discuss? What would happen if we invited our boards and members into that dialogue? Poverty is real and often our belief in a meritocracy is just that: more a belief than a reality.
I offer up the following for discussion.
Originally published on the CU Water Cooler.
In my role at Vancity, I think a lot about an inclusive, sustainable and also vibrant local economy. And I am a hypocrite.
Oh, I’m not alone, all my colleagues and peers are hypocrites too.
We support local businesses. Especially businesses that create a local food economy, hire people with barriers to employment, support new Canadians as they settle so they can be productive and happy in their new country, help companies trying to reduce the carbon emissions they put into the environment and help people reduce the carbons they emit in their lives.
Why are we hypocrites? Our personal investments can’t be put into these kinds of companies. Instead, at best, our mutual funds can screen out companies whose ethics we disagree with. But you can’t screen out everything we disagree with or there’d be almost nothing left to invest in. Big banks? No thanks. Oil and gas? Uh-uh. Resource extraction? No way.
Assuming we’re all investing in socially responsible investments, we’re investing in national and multi-national companies that are moving along a spectrum towards greater sustainability. That’s better than putting our hard-earned money capitalizing companies that we don’t support, endorse or whose practices we actively disagree with. But the government says we can’t invest in the local food market down the street trying to bring local food to our community. (No one sums this up better than Michael H. Shuman.)
The government says we can go to the casino down the road and gamble away our life savings. Sure, that’s allowed. But putting some retirement savings into a local business we can touch and shop at and support? That’s verboten.
Say hello to the Knives and Forks Community Investment Co-op – it’s the newest co-op that I’m a member of. It uses the co-operative structure to allow ordinary people (aka: unaccredited investors) to invest increments of $2,400 into local businesses after becoming a co-op member for a $100 membership share purchase. Knives and Forks focuses on local businesses involved in the local food economy. Restaurants, growers, producers, value-add suppliers, and so on.
It’s a needed addition to our options as local BC citizens trying to support the businesses that we believe in. A central tenet of investing is to invest in companies whose products you use and enjoy. As much as I love Apple and enjoy their products and am proud of their major leaps in environmental sustainability, I don’t know them in the same way that I know my local, organic grocer that I go to every week and can chat with and ask for products that are relevant to me and my family. Or a local butcher, fishery co-operative, raspberry farm, etc…
That’s the best kind of investment.