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In July 2018, CoPower organized a discussion on the future of Ontario’s low-carbon transition. The excitement and ideas that came from that conversation planted the seeds for We’re Still ON.

CoPower is an online investment platform for social and environmental impact. CoPower’s Green Bonds allow Canadians to use their investments to provide vital capital to clean energy infrastructure projects that are proven to reduce carbon emissions.

CoPower is an integral voice in accelerating a clean energy economy. That’s why the team at We’re Still ON talked with CoPower’s Trish Nixon and Greg Overmonds about how CoPower contributes to Canadian climate action projects, how they measure environmental impact, and why this kind of work matters.

Where does your company fit into the world of climate action? What do you do that connects to those goals — either in your mandate, or in your operations, or anywhere in between?

Trish Nixon, Managing Director & Head of Capital: CoPower was founded to help unlock capital for clean energy and climate change solutions by connecting investors that are looking to invest for environmental impact, as well as financial return, with clean energy infrastructure projects. Our focus is on supporting smaller-scale renewable energy distribution and energy efficiency projects.

These projects are often underserved by more mainstream finance. CoPower is a niche alternative lender-to-investor in those sectors. We use our online investment platform as a way to connect hundreds (and, ultimately, thousands) of investors across Canada to portfolios of clean energy investment projects. The way that we do that is through our flagship product, our CoPower Green Bonds. The Green Bond is a bond offering, a private placement bond that investors across Canada can purchase directly from our website’s investment platform. By purchasing a Green Bond, they're investing in a growing portfolio of clean energy and energy efficiency projects.

What guides you to those ends? Is there a particular mission statement or manifesto that’s driving this kind of initiative?

TN: Being a clean energy investment platform is embedded in our mission statement. It’s who we are. Our goal is to use impact investing to accelerate the low-carbon transition. And the drive is two-fold. The co-founders were working in clean energy finance and seeing a lot of venture capital going into cleantech solutions, but a lack of project financing solutions to actually deploy these proven technologies. As well, they saw growing demands from all different types of investors, from institutional to charitable to individual investors, that were trying to do more with their investment portfolio from an environmental perspective.

There’s a growing movement around impact investing — which is essentially the concept of investing for both social or environmental impact alongside the financial return. We had the opportunity to connect the capital side (the supply side) and the demand side, and to use trends towards online investing and financial technology as a mechanism to make that connection.

CoPower is a B Corporation — meaning it’s part of a network of certified businesses that meet a high standard of verified transparency, accountability, and social and environmental responsibility. What does that certification mean for CoPower?

Greg Overmonds, Director, Growth: Greg Overmonds, Director, Growth: I think our B Corp certification indicates to our stakeholders, customers, and investors — and to us internally — that we are always actively participating in a bigger movement of corporations working for the planet. Our bonds directly go towards that. So we feel that our company should also align with the same core B Corp values as our product. That B Certification is powerful and valuable to us.

How do you measure impact? How important is that measurement for CoPower?

TN: For us, it’s always important to measure what matters. Impact measurement is a huge area. We report on impact: an investor in our Green Bonds will get a quarterly report on their carbon avoidance metric, right up alongside their financial performance.

We like to think about a three-pronged framework in terms of how we’re achieving impact. The first prong is direct carbon reduction, and measuring that and reporting on that. The second is about how we’re helping to build the market that we’re investing in. How are we continuing to enable clean energy as a service type model? How are we helping to grow the companies that we’re working with to finance these projects, so that these markets accelerate? And the third thing that we consider is our impact in terms of democratizing clean energy investments. So in addition to tracking how much money we’re raising to invest in clean energy projects, we track how many Canadians are actually participating. We think it’s really important for the individual investor to be able to participate in these markets and to be able to invest with their values.

Do you see an increase in interest in impact investing? Are people excited about Green Bonds and the opportunity they provide to support renewable energy projects?

GO: I think the answer to both is “yes.” Impact investing as an industry is getting tons of interesting growth. Among millennials and among baby boomers, everybody is interested in investing for impact and investing in products that actually have a tangible impact as well. We’re seeing it across the board.

If we’re looking at Green Bonds in particular, CoPower is the only issuer of green bonds for the retail audience in Canada. So that in itself draws a lot of attention, because now we can support and allow investors in seven — soon to be eight — provinces in Canada to put a $5,000 minimum Green Bond into their portfolio. And that is something that’s pretty special, and it’s driven a decent amount of interest across the country. Our most popular green bond product is a 6-year, 5% green bond — meaning that investors get 5% back every year as interest for six years.

TN: We’re still getting investors who tell us that they've been looking for a product like this. Investors are less-than-satisfied with what few mainstream options there are. And from investors who aren't feeling comfortable, that they fully understand where their money is going — and what impact it’s having, positive or negative.

With CoPower, in addition to them knowing that they're investing directly into clean energy projects, we also pride ourselves on transparency. We communicate what exactly all the different projects are that they're funding. That way, investors can really see, touch, and feel how their investment is creating financial value — from the sale of clean power, or from energy efficiency services — and understand how they’re seeing benefits and achieving the impacts that they seek.

Is there a project or a goal that CoPower is working towards at the moment?

GO: Climate change is ravaging the entire country right now; it’s ravaging the entire world. The goal for us is to see how fast we can mobilize this country and work together to unify ourselves around the common goal of fighting climate change. Our goal is to mobilize money towards a low-carbon transition.

That means that we’re looking to see how fast Canadians can open up our wallets and actually see that this is an investment product that’s not only good for their portfolio, but great for the planet. It’s dedicated to supporting strategies that work, which is carbon reduction. Scientifically, that’s the difference-maker between helping hit our 1.5-2 º goal as fast as humanly possible.

TN: I think we know that, in achieving this goal, there are a number of “levers” available — obviously, technology is a key component. We believe that a lot of the technologies that exist, that are proven and demonstrated to be economically viable, should be rolled out as quickly as possible, as we continue to also develop new technologies. Financing is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s often a very critical piece when it comes to actually building these projects.

Whether you're generating renewable energy or reducing consumption, your ongoing fuel costs are low or nil, but the upfront capital can be a barrier. Fortunately, investors invest to earn money over time. And so if we can find the right financing solution, then create the right attractive investment products, I think we can have a massive impact towards accelerating that process. And that’s where we sit, as financial intermediaries.

A third variable, obviously, is in enabling policy, which we’d love to see, but the trends and the economics around renewable energy are all moving in the right direction. And so if we can mobilize Canadians, if we can mobilize money, then we can continue to move the transition forward even in the face of some policy challenges.

Have those goals always been an integral part of the company mandate?

TN: They were always the starting point. The ultimate goal is accelerating the low-carbon transition; and our initial focus is on distributed clean energy infrastructure and energy efficiency. As we continue to grow, our mandate can expand into other sustainable investment areas. But we’re currently fully focused on building a low-carbon economy, and that goal will continue to be our guiding light.

That’s amazing. Thank you both for your time.

TN: Thank you!

GO: Thanks so much.

The Spotlight ON series highlights key organizations making a difference in the world of clean energy and climate action. Connect with the team at We’re Still ON to shine a Spotlight on your organization’s clean energy work — email us at contact@still-on.ca.

What initiative/project/organization would you like to share?

CoPower Green Bonds

How is it helping advance the low carbon transition?

CoPower’s Green Bonds provide vital investment capital for clean energy projects. The Green Bonds are backed by diverse portfolios made up of projects that are guaranteed to generate revenue by reducing carbon emissions and accelerating the low carbon transition.

How can others get involved? What type of support are you looking for?

CoPower is building capacity for renewable energy through capital. We’re looking for interested investors and partners with clean energy and climate action projects.