One of Canada’s most widely respected corporations, Oakville, Ont. based Zenon Environmental, is about to be swallowed by global behemoth General Electric in a move that, regrettably, leaves socially responsible investors in Canada with one less option in putting together an ‘ethical’ investment portfolio. Zenon is a world-leading provider of highly efficient water filtration solutions both small and large in scale, vital technology in dealing with the diminishing availability of clean water supplies around the globe.
in the growth of Zenon, you will be faced with purchasing stock in parent General Electric and it’s diverse range of business activities. Now GE stock may perform well over the coming years, but this could be cold comfort for those who don’t want ownership of a company that also supplies jet engines to air forces around the world, for instance, or controls one of America’s major broadcasters, NBC. GE boss Jack Welch has at least gone on record as saying that he believes the time has passed when making a profit and paying taxes was all that a company had to worry about.
Fortunately, Canada is still host to a number of excellent companies whose services might be considered to go beyond simply returning profits to shareholders. Victoria, BC-based Carmanah Technologies, for instance, (CMH-T; 52-week high $4.19 low $2.60; May 1 close $3.65) is a global innovator in the production of solar-powered LED lighting. Carmanah has nearly 250,000 solar power systems that are currently operating reliably in urban, alpine, coastal and desert environments worldwide – a field-proven testament to the durability and dependability of their technology.
In the Halton Hills outside Toronto you will find the headquarters of SunOpta (SOY-T; 52 week high $12.15 low $9.21; May 1 close $11.14) a North American leader operating in three principal businesses: natural and organic food product sourcing, processing, and packaging; processing, distribution and recycling of environmentally responsible aggregate products and; engineering and marketing of a clean pulping system using patented steam explosion technology. The arguments for feeding soy products to humans rather than cattle are well documented, and SunOpta is nicely positioned to take advantage of this emerging trend.
Another North American business leader is Pacific Regeneration Technologies (PRT.UN-T; 52 week high $11.57 low $9.49; May 1 close $10.59), with a network of seedling facilities across the continent that produced over 220 million trees for reforestation efforts in 2005. The cash flow received by investors in PRT income trust units (91, 99 and 88 cents per unit over the last three years) has been averaging about 9% a year, which has surely been a welcome return in the low rate environment we have been experiencing.
Most Canadians know of the technology developed here in BC and exported by Ballard Power (BLD-T; 52 week high $14.92 low $4.28; May 1 close $11.22), a company whose share price has caused many years of heartache for investors. Even so, those who bought into the stock last year when pessimism about Ballard’s prospects was at it’s most feverish have seen some handsome gains. This is a story that will continue to play out over many years, providing plenty of opportunities and risks for shareholders along the way.
Another Canadian venture that allows investors to enrich more than just their own wallets is the La Siembra fair trade organization. La Siembra offers consumers high-quality, certified fair trade, organic cocoa and sugar cane, in the process improving the livelihoods of family farmers and the well being of communities at home and abroad. La Siembra allows investors to participate through a class of shares that targets a 5% yearly dividend to shareholders.
There remains a handful of other Canadian companies that are innovators and leaders in their respective fields. My own opinion is that, unlike Zenon Environmental, these businesses resist the temptation to sell out to powerful bidders from foreign markets, lest their core values become submerged in a corporate culture far removed from where these homegrown ventures began.