Montreal continues to grow as a leading centre of Canadian sustainability and responsible investment organizations and initiatives in Canada, and its reputation was further solidified this past April with the official launch of the (FSI) during that group’s first annual shareholder meeting. Originally founded in January 2010, the FSI describes itself as a “Not-for-Profit organization that follows from the financial sector’s desire to widespread sustainability as a best practice in finance” comprised of “over 65 participants/members, representing mainstream financing, academia and academic service providers, [and] civil society representatives.”
Armed with a strong focus on socially and environmentally responsible (SER) investing, the FSI is poised to make inroads into the evolution of Canadian SRI culture with a mission statement that seeks to “transform the traditional business model” and point Canadian investors from corporate, government, and civil society backgrounds in the ‘right direction,’ namely towards plunging their capital into sustainable corporate portfolios. With ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) issues becoming a defining feature of socially responsible investing, the FSI’s experts offer advice on “decision-making, investments, valuation and policy-making in the investment arena” through “outreach, awareness raising and events.”
The FSI is particularly notable for its unique Sustainable Investment Professional Certification (SIPC) program, housed at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal. Designed as an 80-hour intensive online study course that is spread out over a full year, the SIPC program offers a “rigorous training curriculum in the field of business sustainability and sustainable investing.” Helmed by none other than international business and management guru Dr. Paul Shrivastava, the SIPC program will see its first cohort of students graduate as certified Sustainable Investment Professionals this summer.
The SIPC program is designed for investment professionals who have some previous experience working in the industry. Education is always a critical tool in arming oneself with skill-sets and knowledge that may be used to tackle problems in any line of work, and investment professionals studying under the auspices of the SIPC program will most certainly gain excellent exposure to pressing concerns where sustainability and finance intersect. The program boasts a curriculum that has been developed in large part by an advisory group consisting of financial experts from many of Canada’s foremost corporate leaders in sustainability and SRI, meaning that SIPC students will be studying current trends and issues in the world of corporate sustainability.
The FSI is organized as an apolitical forum with values that reflect the objective of its mission statement. Sustainable investing and raising awareness of SER/SRI is seen as the number one criteria for investors as per their mission statement and its values (listed below) reflect this aim:
- Focuses on where sustainability and finance intersect
- Is not-for-profit
- Is created by professionals for professionals
- Has a membership of individuals only
- Is developing a common language around ESG and sustainability
- Provides web enabled professional certification and development opportunities
- Engages a range of stakeholders, including the social economy
- Is global in scope
- Is multicultural and multilingual
- Provides a neutral platform for dialogue
- Allies, partners and collaborates with other organizations
While the FSI is a brand new organization, within less than two full years of its creation, the preliminary success of its SIPC program is apparent in its ability to attract sustainability and investment professionals. The FSI’s move to launch an educational course less than a year after its own establishment underscores a growing belief amongst business leaders that drafting new corporate models starts in the classroom and not in the boardroom. The importance of introducing sustainability management in business schools has also been highlighted by the UN in recent months. As my colleague Kobboon Chotruangprasert wrote in a recent article on the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (UNPRE), “a number of business schools all over the world are making headway in integrating sustainability issues in their teaching, research and operations.”
Norman Arruda, Director General of the ISAE/FGV (Higher Institute of Management and Economics/Getulio Vargas Foundation), stated in his 2009 report on the UN Millennium Goals that “business schools have the responsibility of teaching sustainability, not as a matter of charity or marketing, but as a condition for survival. Companies that are not aware of this will certainly lose their competitiveness because they will be at odds with current global goals, which require immediate action, especially regarding climate change and its effects on the fate of society.” Canada has clearly heard the calls made by Arruda and many others to implement sustainable management curriculum in our universities, seen with such prominent examples as the SIPC certificate developed by the FSI, the UBC Continuing Studies Centre for Sustainability, the Royal Roads University School of Environment and Sustainability, The Chang School (Ryerson University) Sustainability Management program, and the graduate degree in Sustainable Development at the University of Waterloo (along with many more).
In sum, the Finance and Sustainability Initiative is a promising venture composed of investment professionals and business executives who understand that in order to achieve sustainability, we must educate our youth on the pitfalls of outdated, unsustainable, and careless consumption and business tactics. Networks like the FSI offer forums for business leaders to develop models that will help equip future generations with the necessary tools to secure sustainability in environmental, social, and corporate governance. As the FSI has shown, education is the primer in that equation.