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: 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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A path for Patagonia

Patagonia stands out for its consistent commitment to keeping high environmental and social standards.

Few companies would consider contributing thousands of dollars to a group of environmental activists for a campaign against other businesses. Yet that is precisely what Patagonia, the outdoor gear retailer, has done to support the Adirondack Mountain Club’s battle against the oil and gas industry.

The Conservation Alliance, a foundation set up by Patagonia and other like-minded retailers, has donated a total of $125,000 to the mountain club since 2007, including a $50,000 grant this year. Most of the money will fund a campaign against plans to extract natural gas under two lakes near Rochester, New York, using the controversial technology known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

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Puma takes a giant leap

The sports clothing company stands out for putting a price on the natural capital it impacts and depends on.

The German sports apparel maker Puma has won wide acclaim over the past two years for a pioneering accounting system that puts a dollars-and-cents value on the environmental impact of its operations.

Yet for all the kudos showered on Puma, few – if any – other global companies have so far followed its lead.

Jochen Zeitz, a director of PPR, Puma’s parent, asserted in an interview with Corporate Knights that “I only get positive remarks…. It’s been overwhelmingly positive.” Zeitz was a driving force behind the environmental profit and loss account – known as EP&L – during 18 years as Puma’s CEO.

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Top company profile: Vancity

Financial cooperative Vancity tops CK’s 2013 Best 50 on the strength of its member-based business model.

"Best Corporate Citizen in Canada” is about the last description that comes to mind for a financial institution in this era of “banksters,” the Occupy movement and temporary foreign workers on Bay Street.

Yet the top dog in Corporate Knights’ annual Best 50 ranking for 2013 is Vancity, Canada’s biggest credit union.

Vancity – its full name is Vancouver City Savings Credit Union – has gained an enviable reputation for looking beyond the bottom line as it strives to “redefine wealth,” as its vision statement puts it.

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