Investment Choices and Quality of Life?

Chris Dixon’s recent Green Space article in the Driftwood entitled “Give Meaning to ‘Peace on Earth Buzzwords’” caused me to reflect on some of the personal investment issues and opportunities we have on Salt Spring Island.  Based on the theme of topics that Chris proposed, my topic could have been called “The Search for Green Investment Alternatives”.

In the past I have had numerous conversations with islanders on the topic of ethical investing – making investment choices which yield an element of satisfaction that your funds are well placed (according to your own personal definition) and, in addition, hopefully provide a relatively reliable return on investment.  That was in an effort to choose well informed investment decisions within the conventional investment arena.  However, I have always been searching for other alternatives.

This past fall, we on Salt Spring were fortunate to have Catherine Austen Fitts (former Assistant Secretary of Housing for President GHW Bush) give a presentation at the SSI Monetary Foundation Annual General Meeting.  Topics included the lack of control and understanding of our conventional investment choices, and to propose some potential alternatives.  She indicated it is very difficult to determine if any of your investment dollars are somehow supporting things you do not personally agree with.  Provisioning of military efforts, drug trafficking or diminishing food quality are examples which are likely objectionable to some individuals, yet are somehow supported through “the system”.  Catherine went on to discuss how after years of “large economy” programs, the quality of life in her neighbourhood of Philadelphia has greatly diminished, rather than improved.  She has a measuring device she used to gauge the general quality of neighbourhood life called the Popsicle Index (PI).  The index measures how safe you believe your children to be if they went to the corner store for a popsicle.  I can’t remember her exact figures but I believe the PI in Philadelphia in her opinion has fallen from something like 100% to 10%.   

The connection?  After years of purportedly, or so we are informed, good things such as free trade, globalization, soaring stock markets, the quality of life for many folks at the neighbourhood level has only diminished, at least in some areas.  And our investment dollars in retirement accounts, stocks bonds, mutual funds, etc. have provided the resources for these trends.

She also gave a follow-up classroom session in which she probed deeper into the opportunities for the redirection of retirement savings from traditional investment vehicles to local, well defined and productive investment vehicles.  As a demonstration we broke into smaller groups to create our own plans for the local investment of a fictional sample retirement portfolio of one million dollars. The theory is that with these local ventures, you gain a similar rate of return, you know and understand where your funds are placed (and by default, where they are not placed), you support small business and local economy, and you support the stabilization or increase in the PI.  And you may just get warm fuzzies in your tummy as well. 

This brief text only covers a small portion of the material presented in Catherine’s two presentations.  I hope I have represented it in a fair manner.

We on Salt Spring Island already have a vibrant community and a relatively safe environment.  However, some see the need to protect or improve upon what we have and thus it is my opinion that we have the opportunity to be a leader in developing programs to support our community and the individuals who live here through innovative investment opportunities.  Opportunities that could foster and grow safer communities, greener businesses, micro-economies, organic farming within an environment of sustainable growth and development.

If you are interested in discussing the above topics or becoming involved with further activities or collaborations, please contact me at: jstanden@saltspring.com or make your opinions known by way of the Driftwood.

As I have discussed financial topics I will provide a disclaimer.  I have no affiliation with any sales of any investment vehicles of any kind, and absolutely no interest.  My motivation is solely for myself, or for possible collaboration.

The writer is a retired manager from the University of Calgary and has a strong interest in personal finance.