5 Ways Montreal Leads on Sustainable Investing

Concordia University


Concordia University in Montreal is a long time leader regarding sustainable investing through its work of the David O'Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise (DOCSE) which actively performs a range of compelling research projects that are too long to list.  

Thomas Walker who heads up DOCSE and I just finished teaching an MBA class on Sustainable Financial Management with students having developed and presented an eclectic, fascinating series of projects to possibly advance their careers after having reviewed both corporate and investor practices throughout the course of our concentrated class held during May 2016.  

Those projects included for example:

  • a look at sustainability and the pharmaceuticals industry,
  • sustainable tourism in Chile,
  • how to help solve nutrition and affordability challenges of food in Northern Quebec,
  • a look at renewable energy technologies, 
  • consideration of how business schools might better adapt to sustainability challenges,
  • a look at the strengths and weaknesses of Microfinance
  • a detailed analysis of Sustainable Real Estate across Canada,
  • consideration of the benefits and challenges of GMOs, and,
  • a look at the evolving nature of fiduciary duty in Canada


This represented a fascinating mix of subjects all provided with thoughtful considerations, and helping teach this class was very rewarding to experience. The class was patterned after a similar Seminar I have the honor of teaching at Yale.

Many other interesting related classes are on offer, far more than you usually see on sustainability at what might be considered top ranked (and less affordable) business schools.

Concordia's Distinguished Speaker Series is very good as have been past webinars and roundtable gatherings (including a high level one just last week) which we are fortunate to have had a chance to participate in.

And they will be contributing to our forthcoming third book on sustainable investing. Phew.

Then there is Future Earth, headed up by the thoughtful and dynamic Paul Shrivastava, the former head of DOCSE, which brings tens of thousands of scientists together around finding tough solutions to intractable sustainability challenges.  Montreal is up for solving challenges both great and small.

Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec

market in montreal
market life in montreal.

One must also consider the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, one of Canada's largest Pension Funds, filled with thoughtful people working on sustainable investing issues as hard as any pension fund you will find.  You can see this manifesting in many ways: in their Infrastructure investment program, which will bring much needed positive benefit to the Montreal area, and in their shareholder engagement and ESG integration and risk assessment capabilities.  

As you get to know their excellent people, you realize they have the important combination of the right culture, know how, experience and desire to do the best they can.  Can you say this about many State and City Pension Funds in the US?  

Impact and Montreal

Montreal Impact.

Thought leaders ahead of their time also abound in Montreal.

Geoff Moore, soon to be with State Street Global Advisors via their recent acquisition of some of GE's financial assets, was interviewed back in 2011 on his vision and work on Impact Investing for Forbes on the Potential for Impact Investing.  

Ahead of his time, we are all just starting to catch up to Geoff and his innovative investment visions, but that's Montreal, rich with positive solution seekers who we should have listened to earlier, but there's no time like the present.  

Solutions Finance


The there is this report just out from the McConnell Foundation, the first in a series on what they are calling Solutions Finance.

Taking the next step beyond early experimentation on impact investing, the McConnell Foundation notes that:

"Successful systems innovation requires adequate resourcing and calls for new forms of capital allocation across the multiple stages of design and implementation. In many cases, systems innovation models mature from needing philanthropic dollars to developing solid business models that would allow them to partner with large mainstream investors. However, as we know, market and social system inefficiencies continue to prevent taking innovative models to scale to fulfill their full potential. This is why the Foundation is shifting its focus to Solutions Finance, an integrated approach to deploying financial capital and adapting financial models to catalyze, sustain and scale systems transformation."  

McConnell reports further on its own investments, defining Impact Investing as:

"Mission-Related Investments (MRI): MRI's are financial investments made in either for- profit or non-profit enterprises with the intent of achieving mission-related objectives and normally earning market-rate financial returns. Financial instruments in this category include bonds and deposits, loans and mezzanine capital, public equity, private equity, and venture capital investments.

Program-Related Investments (PRI): PRI's are investments made to charities as well as for-profit and non-profit enterprises to further the Foundation’s program objectives, but – unlike grants – they also aim to generate financial returns, with a tolerance for below-market returns."

and expects to exceed its target of 10% of its investments in these two areas by 2020.



Montreal has long formed a vibrant, active community around the nexus of corporate sustainability and investing, known as the FSI or the Finance and Sustainability Initiative (or Initiative Finance Durable/IFD in French).

Check out their website linked above for all they do, but I think the summary of who and what they are says it best:

"Responsible investment is not a revolution but rather an evolution in how to analyze, select, and manage investments by integrating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria in order to achieve better long-term returns, contribute to the sustainability of companies and financial markets, and promote a more stable and inclusive world economy. Today, responsible investment is emerging as a best practice in the field of finance."

In my experience, this is exactly where we find ourselves in his field, with sustainable/responsible/ESG strategies emerging as best and essential practice within all levels of global finance, and Montreal has been one step ahead, with an established and experienced community of professionals who have often kindly welcomed me in many times.

I've traveled to every city in North America over the past 5-10 years that has any semblance of sustainability.  I'm convinced Montreal is the center of thought leadership on sustainable investing in North America.