Rebecca Hurwitz

Rebecca Hurwitz: Managing the Trust of a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve

In this monthly series, the team behind Genus Fossil Free speaks with Canadians at the heart of where finance meets climate action. Know someone we might want to speak with? Suggest them in the comments below or email info@genusfossilfree.com

Rebecca Hurwitz is the Executive Director at Clayoquot Biosphere Trust (CBT). As a local community foundation, the CBT manages a Trust for Clayoquot Sound, one of Canada’s 18 UNESCO biosphere reserves and one of only two UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in British Columbia.

We caught up with Rebecca to understand the importance of this UNESCO designation, and how she aligns the values of the CBT with its investment portfolio.

Rebecca_Headshot

Rebecca Hurwitz, Executive Director of Clayoquot Biosphere Trust.

What is the Clayoquot Biosphere?

The Clayoquot Biosphere is a coastal rainforest watershed on the west coast of Canada in which many ecosystems exist including rainforest, lakes, rivers and streams, oceans, shorelines, sandy beaches and mudflats. Many of the animal species in this unique region are endangered or rare.

The Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve was recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (CSUBR) in 2000. This is the first time a Reserve in British Columbia has received this designation.

As a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, CSUBR celebrates the unique ecosystems of Clayoquot Sound and the people who work so hard to encourage a respectful and sustainable relationship with our environment. Our hope is that by connecting people to this place, we will inspire a better future for the region.

What is the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust?

To mark the UNESCO designation, the federal government entrusted a $12 million grant to Clayoquot Sound communities through the creation of the Canada Fund in 2000.

The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust (CBT) manages this endowment fund to uphold the spirit and intent of the biosphere reserve designation through innovative education programs, sustainability research and celebrating the unique communities and ecosystems of Clayoquot Sound.

The major program of the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust is the community health snapshot which is produced every two years. This report, called Vital Signs, brings together data from different sources into a digestible format. It covers ten themes, including education, economy, health, language, and culture. The insights are designed to provide local leaders with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions.

How does Clayoquot Biosphere Trust invest?

The CBT has always been a socially responsible investor. Working with Genus, we previously used the Jantzi index. Along with their partner Sustainalytics, we have been able to move to a fossil fuel free portfolio.

In 2016, we created the ‘Wild Salmon Endowment Fund’, which aims to support priorities from a local salmon recovery plan. Climate change is increasing the stressors affecting salmon populations including changing water temperatures, more frequent flooding and more in-stream erosion. This fund specifically focuses on salmon restoration and enhancement and it is important to align the portfolio globally to negate the impacts we are seeing locally.

It is encouraging to see that our ‘Wild Salmon Endowment Fund’ is outperforming industry benchmarks. Divesting from fossil fuels has ensured more stability compared to major fluctuations when we had fossil fuels in our portfolio.

How can an organization make the first steps towards divestment?

I encourage more organizations to consider divesting. More people are calling upon companies they work with to make investment decisions that align with their values.

The first step is starting the conversation. Start a conversation with your internal and external stakeholders about what values you deem important. From there, you can consider how your organization as a whole, including investments, aligns with these values.

Our stewardship values are what sets us apart. We demonstrate these values by reporting how our programs are contributing positively both locally and globally, and by investing our money in value-aligned funds.

Who does CBT partner with to achieve its goals?

We collaborate with local groups and individuals in our region. We receive donations from people who are passionate about the environment and communities in our area. For example, one donor is the owner of a surfboard manufacturing company; surfers have a deep connection with nature because of how much time they spend interacting with the ocean.

There’s a great history of environmental stewardship in our region. This means we have strong support locally to practise sustainable development the Clayoquot Biosphere.

What is your climate action superpower?

My superpower is inspiring ‘informed’ action in others by sharing data. Our Vital Signs report is shared with local decision makers, households, school boards and first nation communities. My goal is to ensure the data we share resonates with our local audience, to better support and protect the local ecosystems and communities.

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