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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.

Heroes & zeros: Volkswagen and Vale

Scandal-plagued VW launches ambitious commitment to EVs, while Vale faces fallout from dam collapse

For the past three years in a row, Volkswagen has sold more vehicles than any other carmaker on the planet. Yet that achievement has won it little applause.

The German carmaker’s profits and share price have languished, and the sales numbers have been overshadowed by one of the most damaging scandals in corporate history: accusations that it installed illegal software in its diesel models to circumvent tightening emission rules. VW, whose brands also include Audi and Porsche, has paid billions of dollars in fines and compensation.

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Heroes and zeros: Vanguard’s John Bogle and Postmedia’s Paul Godfrey

Hero: Vanguard founder John Bogle

 

For years, small investors measured their portfolios’ performance by little more than day-to-day swings in share prices. Far too many entrusted those portfolios to conflicted financial advisors, and relied on friends for hot tips.

Times have changed. Millions of retail investors – though by no means all – have come to appreciate that the dartboard approach invariably produces poorer returns than a basket of reputable stocks held year in and year out. Many now take the time to compare fees charged by mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and to ask questions about financial advisors’ independence, and their fees.

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Heroes & Zeros: Seychelles vs. Facebook

When you lose faith in Facebook for good, you can always look to an island nation for inspiration

Hero:  Seychelles' blue bonds

First, in 2007, came the “green bond,” the debt instrument that has raised hundreds of billions of dollars for projects to combat or adapt to climate change. Now, a decade later, the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles has made a splash with the world’s first “blue bond,” aimed at easing environmental pressures on our oceans and marine life.

The proceeds of the 10-year, US$15-million issue will go towards overhauling the Seychelles’ fishing industry, the biggest contributor to the economy after tourism. Eligible projects include the development of aquaculture, training programs, new equipment and promotion of environmentally friendly fishing practices.

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Heroes & zeros: Danby and McKinsey

Hero:

It’s not easy for Jim Estill to assess whether his unusually generous support for Syrian refugees has helped or hurt his business.

Estill is chief executive of Danby Appliances, a maker of washing machines, dishwashers and microwaves based in Guelph, Ontario. He emerged two years ago as one of the biggest single participants in the Liberal government’s much-publicized drive to offer Syrian refugees a new home in Canada. As of late August, Estill alone had sponsored 61 families, with another six on the way and likely more in the future.

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Heroes & zeros: McDonald’s and Murray Energy

McDonalds moves to reduce its packaging waste, while Murray Energy lobbies for coal-friendly policies.

Hero:

When it comes to damaging our planet, the fast-food industry has much to answer for. The attractions of cheap burgers and drive-thru coffee are all too often sullied by allegations of poor working conditions, animal cruelty and the cost to the environment of mountains of paper, foam and polystyrene waste.

So McDonald’s deserves a round of applause for its recent pledge to use renewable, recyclable or certified materials for all packaging by 2025, and to put recycling bins in all 37,000 Golden Arch restaurants around the world.

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