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Scottish local government pensions invest £1.7 bn in fossil fuels

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New data published in the Sunday Herald yesterday revealed that Scottish local authority pensions have an astonishing £1.7 billion invested in fossil fuel companies, such as Shell and BP. Before today it was not known the extent to which the funds, held by Scotland’s 11 Local Government Pension Schemes on behalf of council workers and related organisations, were exposed to the “carbon bubble”.

The research, carried out by Friends of the Earth Scotland, volunteers and partners (350.org, Platform and Move Your Money) shows that:

– The £1,664 million (£1.7 bn) invested in fossil fuels represents 5.2% of the total value of the funds.

– This represents £311 per Scottish resident, invested in coal, oil and gas by local government.

– Money is invested into multinational fossil fuel companies including £56 million in Rio Tinto, £39 million in BP and £31 million in Shell.

– Strathclyde Pension Fund came top in Scotland and second largest in the whole of the UK, with £752 million invested in fossil fuels.

– Of the six pension funds investigated by the Sunday Herald in 2014 the total value invested of fossil-fuels has increased by £300 million to £1.4 billion.

The news comes at a time when fossil fuel investments have been falling in value, posing both financial and environmental risks to funds. Campaigners are calling for funds to invest in line with a scientific evidence that shows that 80% of fossil fuel reserves need to remain in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change. Action on climate change will leave fossil fuel investments worthless, creating a carbon bubble which would be deeply damaging to any funds exposed to them.

Scottish organisations such as the United Reform Church, University of Edinburgh and University of Glasgow have already made moved to quit investing in fossil fuels, joining 389 institutions globally that have committed to divest.

Pensions can be invested sustainably.  In February the Strathclyde Pension Fund announced a £10 million investment in smaller-scale renewables and in 2014 the Falkirk fund invested £30 million in social housing.

Dave Watson, Head of Bargaining and Campaigns at UNISON Scotland has supported the Fossil Free campaign said: “Local authorities have a duty to cut carbon emissions under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act. This, together with the growing financial risk, is a major factor Scottish local authority pension funds need to consider when making investments in the fossil fuel and similar industries. Divesting from fossil fuels is the prudent way for councils to meet both their fiduciary duty to members and their public law duties.”

Alison Johnstone, MSP for Lothian, has asked questions in the Scottish Parliament about fossil fuel investment. She said: “Pension schemes are supposed to provide security for workers when they retire. At the moment, our local authorities are playing reckless games with their employees’ money, and it’s time the Scottish Government took more action on this issue. Oil, gas and coal are running out, and the fossil fuel industry is no longer a sustainable, sensible investment choice. Scottish Ministers and public sector pension schemes should urge local government to ask their members how they want their pensions to be invested.”

Cllr Jim Orr, Edinburgh City Council Pensions Committee said: “There is a growing recognition that pensions and other long term investments often support patterns of unsustainable and hugely damaging fossil fuel consumption. What we need is for more stakeholders, particularly individual pension scheme members, to make their voices heard so that there is pressure for investment strategies to reflect their wishes.”

Maggie Anderson, Lothian Pension Fund member said: “The only thing that makes sense is to invest in renewables. We need to look to the future, not kill it by persisting with what belongs in the past. That’s what I would hope for from my pension fund, especially in Scotland which has so many natural resources of renewable energy.”

Kirsty Noble, Strathclyde Pension Fund member said: “Local governments and their pension funds really have to take the lead in action to avert climate change – whatever the rest of us do individually is small in comparison with the potential for government action. Given the growing understanding of the need to ‘keep it in the ground’ these investments are increasingly risky and the local authority funds seem to be overexposed to this risk.”

Ric Lander, FoE Scotland campaigner for Fossil Free pensions said: Communities around the world are calling for an end the environmental destruction that comes with coal mining, fracking and deep-sea oil. Our pension money shouldn’t be fuelling this damage: at time when public resources are being squeezed, we should be redirecting this money to socially useful projects such housing and clean energy. Across Scotland people from churches, unions, universities and community groups are asking why so much of their money is invested with so little accountability.  Funds should listen to their members and make a shift away from dirty energy and towards clean and safe investments.”

Energy

Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?

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sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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Energy

7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees

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As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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