Feature Writer
Bernard Simon is a freelance writer who previously spent 17 years as Canada correspondent for the Financial Times. He has also been a regular correspondent for the New York Times, The Economist and US News & World Report, among others.

Top company profile: Vancity

Making finance a force for good in society

Tamara Vrooman has a drop-dead response to a question about gender diversity at Vancity, Canada’s biggest credit union. Noting that women make up more than half of Vancity’s top management and seven of its nine board members, Vrooman, its chief executive, chuckles: “We are the only board in Canada looking for a few good men.”

That rare attribute helps explain why Corporate Knights has named Vancity Canada 2016’s Best Corporate Citizen. The credit union was also awarded the top spot in 2013.

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Taxing business

Putting multinational tax avoidance on the agenda

An obscure group of tax experts from such countries as Azerbaijan, New Zealand, Norway and Zambia, among others, seems an unlikely focal point for a high-stakes tug-of-war in the world of global finance.

Yet the 25-member United Nations committee on international cooperation in tax matters finds itself at ground zero in an escalating battle over how and where multinational corporations pay – or, more to the point, do not pay – their fair share of taxes.

The Group of 77 developing countries, led by India and China, wants to turn the committee into a more muscular inter-governmental agency that would have a voice in setting tax rules for many of the world’s biggest companies. Activists disrupted a meeting in Addis Ababa last summer by unfurling a banner that read: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

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Top company profile: Tim Hortons

A cultural icon, Tim Hortons has steadily improved its sustainability performance over the past five years. Will it stick?

Tim Hortons has again proven the old adage that the race goes not to the swiftest, but to the most sure-footed.

The coffee chain tops Corporate Knights’ 2015 ranking of Canada’s 50 Best Corporate Citizens. It owes its No. 1 spot less to a stand-out performance in any of the 12 categories used to compile the overall ranking, than to solid marks virtually across the board, from waste recycling to use of water and energy.

“They are a good all-rounder,” says Michael Yow, research director at Corporate Knights Capital, the magazine’s sister company. “They don’t excel, but they do well on almost all indicators.” Tim Hortons ranked fourth last year.

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Going big with green bonds

Explosive growth of climate or “green” bonds is creating demand for better standards and transparency.

Two of the most seasoned borrowers on North America’s capital markets, the Province of Ontario and Export Development Canada, took the unusual step recently of seeking advice from a group of climate-change researchers in faraway Norway.

Ontario and EDC turned to the University of Oslo’s Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research to help smooth their first forays into the fast-growing market for “green bonds,” fixed-income investments used to finance projects that help combat or adapt to climate change. The Norwegian group, known as CICERO, has emerged as the most influential arbiter of which borrowings qualify as “green.”

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A matter of time

Are fossil fuel companies factoring the future price on GHG emissions into everything they dig, pump and produce?

Mutual fund managers at Vancity Investment Management had an unusual question recently for four Canadian banks and insurance companies in which their funds own shares. They asked the boards of those companies to explain how they were going to address stranded assets in the fossil fuel industry. A hypothetical example: a bank-financed railway line built to service an oil sands mine. What if the project closes down because it is no longer economic, they asked? What good is the infrastructure then?

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