Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Has BPA Contaminated Your Portfolio?

That pesky chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA, is in the news again, raising questions about how the companies in our portfolios are managing the prolific risks associated with man-made chemicals.

Yesterday, Statistics Canada released a report stating that 91% of Canadians surveyed had detectable levels of BPA in their blood stream. Even more concerning is that they detected notably higher levels of the chemical in children and teens.

Some studies have linked BPA to concerning health effects including behaviour issues, brain development and even cancer. It is an extremely common chemical, used in everything from plastic containers, tin cans, bottles, DVDs, receipts, dental resins and even recycled toilet paper! (Check out this great interview with Adria Vasil, Author of Ecoholic Home). Canada banned BPA from baby bottles in 2008 because it was concerned about the effects of the chemical on children. But BPA remains in millions of products consumed by Canadian children and adults every day.

Consider this, if BPA is so prevalent in our food and consumer products, it's also rampant in our investment portfolios.

Food manufacturing companies, consumer products retailers, chemical companies, medical equipment manufacturers, electronics firms ... and the list goes on. When Canada banned BPA from baby bottles, manufacturers and retailers scrambled to replace existing products with those that were BPA-free. It caused a major disruption, not to mention millions of dollars in lost sales.

With mounting evidence pointing to systemic health concerns, what are companies doing to manage the risks associated with the continued use of BPA?

I have long thought that the proliferation of the manufactured chemicals industry will be the next tobacco in terms of future health risks, as well as future litigation and reputation risks for companies. Corporations that are a) not aware of the risks posed by chemicals, and b) not actively seeking safe chemical alternatives, will be in for a rough ride. As shareholders of thousands of companies that routinely use BPA and other chemicals, investors such as pension funds, foundations and mutual funds have a reason to be worried.

For those of us that make it our business to look beyond the bottom line to find out more about the social and environmental impact of the companies we invest in, the idea of chemicals contaminating our investment portfolios is not a new concept.

In fact, a number of investors are already on the case. The Investor Environmental Health Network has been investigating this issue and contacting companies regarding chemical risk management and safe chemical alternatives.

Shareholders have filed a number of shareholder proposals at US corporations, seeking commitments from companies to adopt policies and improve chemical management practices. However, there has been less activity focused on Canadian companies, despite the Canadian Government's clear signal on the questionable safety of BPA. It is clear however from this recent release from Statistics Canada that this issue will not go away. Companies and their shareholders would be wise to check their portfolio's exposure to BPA.

We have ideas on how to decontaminate your portfolio!

Contact us now about how you can communicate with companies in your portfolio about reducing the use of toxic chemicals and finding safe alternatives.


According to the Globe and Mail, Canada is the first jurisdiction in the world to declare BPA toxic.  Canada has now added BPA to the list of toxic substances.  You can read Canada's official announcement in the Canada Gazette.  What companies in your portfolio are exposed?

You can find out more from As You Sow, the San Francisco-based advocacy group, which has published a report ranking food companies on their efforts to eliminate BPA from food and beverage packaging.  The report identifies leaders such as H.J Heinz and General Mills, but also pin points some of the laggards whose products might be lingering in your cupboard (and your portfolio!) such as Kraft and Safeway.