Local Investment Co-op Grows Green Businesses

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By Transition Salt Spring Enterprise Cooperative

Investing in our own community makes sense, but how does an islander with some savings go about doing that, and how does someone with a small business reach out beyond friends and family for support?

Transition Salt Spring Enterprise Cooperative (TSSEC) provides a unique solution.

TSSEC has been offering microloans for local green projects since 2011. Co-op members can each lend up to $5,000 to projects of their choice and receive modest interest on their contributions. To qualify for a microloan, borrowers must demonstrate that their project meets green criteria in categories ranging from energy use and healthy ecosystems to localization and fair trade practices. Projects must also be financially viable and borrowers pay competitive interest rates on their loans.

To date, TSSEC has issued 14 loans totalling almost $100,000 to Salt Spring non-profits and individuals running small businesses. TSSEC treasurer Donald McLennan comments, “This is a remarkable achievement considering that TSSEC members decide individually how much if anything they will invest in any given project. If no-one wishes to invest, or if insufficient funds are raised, the loan does not proceed”.

One of six current projects is Shepherd Shoes at 320A Upper Ganges Rd. John Shepherd creates high-quality, hand-crafted shoes and accessories, and provides a much-needed island repair service for shoes, bags and belts, horse tack, marine gear, and tarps.

Also helping the community to reduce, reuse and recycle are two consignment stores supported by TSSEC, Bohemia Consignment and Axe & Reel, both at 111 Rainbow Rd. Bohemia’s co-owners Katy Parsons and Katie Burke describe their business as quintessentially local: “It sources locally, sells locally and the consignors generate revenue that goes back into the Salt Spring community. Proceeds from our annual sale go to Stagecoach Theatre School, a local not-for-profit. Lady Minto Thrift Store accepts any leftover items. Everyone wins and everything stays local.” 

TSSEC is one of a handful of local investment co-ops in the province. The Community Impact Investment Coalition of B.C. is seeking legislative change to make it easier for small co-ops like TSSEC to operate. Changes contemplated include raising the $5,000 investment limit per member, and increasing the maximum number of members from the current 150.

Such changes would be welcome, says TSSEC president Elizabeth White: “Some members are reaching their $5,000 investment limit, and it would be good to facilitate more and larger projects. When we first set up in 2011, we anticipated that TSSEC would eventually be able to assist with the financing of community energy projects and affordable housing. With legislative changes we may yet get there. We welcome new members — investors and borrowers — who would like to support or benefit from our green loans.”

For more information, call Elizabeth White at 250-537-2616.

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