David Berliner, 31, is harnessing the power of investing to help solve the climate crisis.

He states emphatically: “Climate change is the defining issue of our time, especially for younger people where decisions we make today will have an impact in decades to come.”

While the millennial entrepreneur is now co-founder of CoPower, one of Canada’s leading green investment companies, his is a less than glamorous origin story.

It begins at Hart House, the beloved, yet drafty student centre at the University of Toronto where Berliner worked as sustainability coordinator as an undergraduate. “Simple retrofits like LED lights or new windows could have saved a lot of money, but we didn’t have the budget.”

His bright idea: a university green bond that would finance the eco updates. It was an idea before its time--he pitched it to the university’s president--but now ten years later he’s making it happen in a big way on a national level.

 

Everyone can save the planet

 

Berliner believes that while the decisions of policy-makers are important, thankfully politicians are not the only players shaping the future of planet earth.

“Anyone with a bit of money to invest can have an impact.”

Anyone can invest with impact: investors aged 16 to 90, from first-time investors to seasoned investment professionals.

CoPower specializes in green bonds. Berliner explains the concept is simple. “Think of a bond as an IOU. An investor purchases a bond and we pledge to pay the initial investment back with interest. But green bonds are not your ordinary savings or government bonds. They finance environmentally friendly projects like renewable energy or energy efficiency.”

CoPower’s green bonds have radically democratized green investing, helping make the idea of profit and planet accessible to everyone, not just wealthy investors. 

“We’re giving all types of investors across Canada the ability to put their money to work building the low carbon economy.”

Christine Bergeron, Senior Vice President at Vancity Credit Union based in Vancouver, says this is one of the reasons her institution invested with CoPower.

“As a values-based financial institution, we know that it is possible to achieve both financial returns and make a positive environmental impact from an investment. CoPower allows investors to do this in an asset class that has traditionally been targeted to large institutional investors only. The opportunity that CoPower now offers Canadians is terrific!”

CoPower’s innovative online tech platform has allowed the company to reach investors aged 16 to 90, from first-time investors to seasoned investment professionals as well as foundations, endowments and credit unions.

Berliner sees the common thread. “All these diverse investors are looking for a return on their investment in line with their values and desire to do something about climate change.”

 

Small is powerful

 

CoPower’s green bonds are helping make more small-scale renewable energy projects happen.

“Through green bonds, we encourage and give agency to investors to take their money out of environmentally harmful companies, but more importantly, we provide opportunities for positive impact by investing in green infrastructure.”

“We make loans to renewable energy projects, typically smaller scale ones. This is called ‘distributed energy.’ Instead of having one big centralized power plant, you have buildings and communities producing their own power.”

One recent project involved installing geothermal systems in hundreds of homes in British Columbia.

And while solar energy is not new, widespread usage of this no-brainer energy source has been restricted because of cost. Berliner and other experts are dedicated to getting more solar on homes and buildings across Canada.

“This is not a technology problem. It’s a finance problem,” he said. “Solar and geothermal are well-established, but because they cost a lot upfront the uptake is slower than it could be.”

The financing provided by CoPower’s bonds help clean energy developers and their customers overcome those upfront costs.

“A good analogy is the car. When first invented, automobiles were only available to the rich. However, an innovation in financing led to ordinary people being able to afford a car and we saw mass adoption.”

“A similar transformation is happening in energy. By offering energy solutions to homeowners with financing over time, instead of upfront costs, solar is now affordable. And widespread adoption allows the tech companies to scale up and service thousands of communities.”

 

The future of investing

 

Berliner is hopeful about the future as the young, switched-on generation takes the lead.

“We are currently seeing the largest ever inter-generational transfer of wealth from the retiring baby boomers to the new wave of millennials.”

“Our generation is inherently more attuned to social and environmental issues. So when it comes to investment it’s implicit that we support good, clean industries. Why would we support harmful, dirty industries?”

Today’s thought leaders are paving the way for an empowering paradigm shift and the new models to make this possible.

John Stackhouse, Royal Bank of Canada Senior Vice President, and clean-economy thought leader highlighted CoPower’s innovative climate finance solution in a speech at the North American Climate Policy Forum.

“I believe CoPower combines public sector policy, private capital and human ingenuity in a winning formula. It’s a made-in-Canada solution that’s really made-by-Canada, and might just be a hint of where the world can go.”

While political leaders fail to address the devastation of climate change, masses of green investors of all sizes are uniting to save the planet.