Book Review: Invest Like You Give a Damn by Marc de Sousa-Shields

I was drawn to Marc de Sousa-Sheilds’ Invest Like You Give a Damn: Make Money, Change the World, Sleep Well at Night because I have really been having an ethical crisis lately, and it’s related to my investments. I became a minimalist to focus on what was important to me and stop buying and taking care of so much stuff. I tried to reduce my waste, especially of oil and plastics, to benefit the environment and my future children. I then amped up my savings with the aim to become financially independent so I could spend more time in my passion of environmental activism. I put my money in low-cost index funds with a perfect balanced asset allocation. But these investments are out of line with my values and hopes for the future.

Sometime around the summer I actually started looking at what I was invested in and I was horrified. Take the iShares Jantzi Social Index ETF, XEN. This is an ETF which replicates the Jantzi Social Index, which consists of 50 Canadian companies that pass broad set of environments, social and governance criteria.

Even though I got rid of my car five years ago and was talking the bus and biking to avoid the use of oil, I was invested in Suncor Energy, which produces crude oil from tar sands. The stock invests in the big five banks, at least one of which every year (let’s say I know from experience) cuts Canadian jobs, moves them abroad, cuts bonuses and employee benefits, all while shattering earnings. That’s without going in depth in Pembina Pipelines, Agnico Eagle Mines, and Air Canada, which all pollute or destroy the environment to achieve their core business objectives. This fund has ranked five points/high in the Morningstar Sustainability Rating, which is seriously messed up. The rest of my portfolio is even worse, in terms of my values. Here I was trying to save the world in my daily life, meanwhile, I was pumping all my money into companies which don’t align with my worldview at all.

This is a real problem, to which no one has offered a satisfactory solution, in Canada. I even considered, should I sell all my investments and invest in real estate, which, aside from cosmetic fixes every 15 to 20 years, does not harm the environment as much as industry? Instead I pick up Invest Like you Give a Damn.

The first thing I will say is this book is a satrical financial planning book which places emphasis on investing with your values. One thing this book does very well is motivates you to take action. The Stomping the Devil of Inertia Chapter is highly valuable in this regard. Appendix Six alone is worth buying this book, because it lists US and Canadian Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) Fund examples. I could have done without the chapter entitled Why You Don’t Give a Damn about Investing Sustainable, which was a bit of a downer on the positive book and could have been interspersed with rebuttals to the arguments against SRI investing.

Because my rule in investing is to never sell, I will be using this book to guide future investments. I have been researching Appendix Six funds which follow my very strict criteria and in a later post I will be presenting my new portfolio.

Overall assessment? Pick up the book, especially if you need a finance 101 refresher. It leave a lot of the sustainability research in your hands, but gives you information on how to get started.