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Ben Goldsmith on fixing the environmental crisis through philanthropy

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Environmental philanthropy accounts for less than 3% of total UK philanthropic giving. This is a staggering statistic considering the sheer scale of environmental problems the world faces, says philanthropist and green investor Ben Goldsmith.

This piece originally featured in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Philanthropy & Giving 2013.

People address the environmental crisis in their own way. Some buy solar panels; some sell solar panels; some educate; some write. But for some people, like Ben Goldsmith, money is their weapon of mass conservation.

At just 32, Goldsmith has made a name for himself as one of the brightest entrepreneurial minds in Britain, and is already a veteran when it comes to philanthropy. He is a partner at green investment group WHEB, chairs his family’s philanthropic foundation, which specialises in grant-making to green and environmental causes, and was instrumental in setting up the Environmental Funders Network (EFN), which brings together 150 trusts, foundations and individual donors.

In January 2012, the EFN published the fifth edition of its Where the Green Grants Went report, which analyses the state of environmental philanthropy in the UK. The latest edition provided some real food for thought for Goldsmith.

Click here to read The Guide to Philanthropy & Giving 2013

The total amount of money given by trusts and foundations to environmentally-related work amounts to I think less than 3% of total philanthropic giving by trusts and foundations”, he says, citing research conducted by the EFN.

I’m staggered by that. Given the scale of the problem that we’re facing, I find it amazing that only around £75m was spent on environmental work in total in 2009/10. It’s the biggest challenge facing our generation. I can’t think of a greater challenge than fixing the environmental crisis.”

In a 2011 article for Spear’s, a lifestyle magazine for high net-worth individuals, Goldsmith praised generous philanthropic giving, but said it all “means nothing” unless the environment is looked after. He puts the apparent disregard for the long-term future of our planet and its inhabitants down to a lack of education: “The general problem is that people take the environment for granted. The stuff that we consider to be our God-given right and we consider to receive for free has no economic value attached to it for that reason.”

Goldsmith adds that this problem, failing to value healthy ecosystems and the services they provide, is a problem that runs through investment, business, development, decision-making and philanthropy.

His sentiments are supported by academic research. A report from April 2013 by investment firms Alliance Trust, Newton and Schroders claimed that leading economists were failing to account for ecosystem services such as climate change, because of the inherent short-term nature of markets.

Interviewees, including several chief economists from some of the largest investment banks in the world, noted the “shortcomings in the ability of existing economic models to readily incorporate ecosystem service impacts”.

A fundamental problem with economics is that a forested area of hills near a city is not valued for the water it provides that city every year. It’s only when the forest cleared and the city starts running out of water in the summers that they realise what they’ve done”, explains Goldsmith.

The root of that problem is the same when it comes to philanthropy. People assume that the environment will just always be there and will always keep on giving, and therefore they look to focus on the more immediate problems.

It’s like they’re putting sticking plasters onto the symptoms of environmental collapse and trying to deal with things at the end of the pipe, rather than going to the beginning of the pipe and trying to solve the cause of some of those problems. That’s the transition that philanthropists need to make.”

But while the current generation of big philanthropists are perhaps falling short in giving to environmental causes, Goldsmith believes there is room for optimism. Environmental issues have been drummed into schoolchildren since the 90s, and so represent a top priority issue for young people today.

The environment, he says, will benefit from that shift in the long run – though whether things will change as quick as they need to is another question altogether.

Goldsmith has his father, the late billionaire financier Sir James, to thank for introducing him to philanthropy. Sir James, who died in 1997 when Ben was just 16, set up what was then called the Goldsmith Foundation in 1990. It was from his father that Ben inherited his business and investment nous.

His passion for the environment came from his uncle Teddy, though, the brother of Sir James and founder of both the Green party and the Ecologist magazine (which Ben’s brother Zac would later go on to edit). Sir James, too, had Teddy to thank for converting him to a green way of thinking.

The Goldsmith Foundation is now called the JMG Foundation. But while its name has changed over the years, it still has almost no public profile and a discrete online presence. However, it continues to give away millions to environmental causes each year.

The philanthropists Goldsmith most admires are Sigrid and Lisbet Rausing. Daughters of billionaire Swedish businessman Hans, the sisters are known in their own right for being two of the most generous and publicity-shy givers in the world – Sigrid to human rights causes and Lisbet to environmental and conservation issues. Goldsmith describes them as “unsung heroes”.

There are lots of philanthropists around, and certainly those that are most unsung are often in areas such as human rights and environment, where there are no monuments to their giving”, he adds.

A lot of what they do is unseen, but they’re actually creating lasting, systemic change with their philanthropy, which I think is the ultimate outcome.”

Many philanthropists engage in so-called ‘vanity giving’. Indeed, one of the biggest criticisms of philanthropy is that it allows the wealthiest to pursue their own interests (most notably in the arts) and not necessarily resolve what is most pressing in society. The tiny amount of philanthropic money given each year to environmental causes is perhaps evidence of this.

I would love to sit down and chat to some of these philanthropists and get them to see the scale of the problem we’re facing, and the fact that philanthropic money is so incredibly potent”, Goldsmith says.

Tiny amounts of philanthropic money, compared to the money spent with corporate lobbyists, can make such a difference. You can really move juggernauts with tiny amounts of philanthropic money.”

Goldsmith is quick to add, however, that ‘vanity giving’ is not a bad thing in his eyes: “Look at some of the wonderful monuments in the cities of the world that have been built, and some of the national parks that have been donated. There are lots of wonderful examples of extravagant, ostentatious giving that have left us with a fantastic legacy.

Thank God for the National Gallery and the Royal Opera House, which were the results of extravagant and ostentatious giving. I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing; I think it’s definitely a good thing.”

But philanthropists have not always enjoyed a steady relationship with governments. Criticisms of philanthropy from politicians stretch way back, with US senator Frank Walsh arguing in 1912, “Taxation, not philanthropy, was the proper way to provide funds to solve social problems.”

Fast forward 100 years and philanthropists in the UK were outraged when David Cameron and George Osborne accused them of giving away money to charitable causes as a means of dodging taxes.

Goldsmith argues that the relationship between tax rates, levels of philanthropic giving, and social outcomes is something that would benefit from further research.

It’s clear that the US and UK have stronger philanthropic cultures in part as a result of having lower levels of income tax than some other industrialised countries, and personally I like the idea that individuals have the freedom to support the things they care about the most”, he says.

It’s also the case that philanthropic capital has a vital role in supporting work that criticises the government, such as the lobbying and advocacy work carried out by environmental organisations.  It is very hard for such groups to get funding for this kind of work from either the government or the business community.”

At the same time, he points out that countries with strong philanthropic cultures often fare less well in terms of social indicators and measures of wellbeing.

But conversations about philanthropy with Goldsmith will always come back to one point: the “staggering” mismatch between the scale of environmental philanthropy and the problems ahead.

To change the world for the better is the ultimate outcome of philanthropy. And the collapse of the natural systems on which we all depend – some people more directly than others – is the deciding factor governing so many other issues that philanthropists are trying to address”, he says.

I therefore find it odd that the environment sits so low down the priority list.”

Further reading:

Philanthropists urged to take more risks and ‘talk about failure’

Impact investment and philanthropy: we need to ‘redefine how we all think about returns’

Green Dragon: Ben Goldsmith

The Guide to Philanthropy & Giving 2013

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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