Lena Semaan examines the potential for financially and mentally rewarding investments.
With the promise of healthy returns and a clear conscience to boot, socially responsible investing is an appealing proposition. Against a background of heightened global awareness of issues such as climate change, ethical investments have shed their alternative hippie image and embedded themselves firmly in the mainstream.
Unfortunately this hasn’t necessarily led to greater clarity for the consumer – if there was any to begin with. The idea of putting the words “ethical” and “investment” in the same sentence would have been almost unthinkable 20 years ago and for many looking to invest it can still be both confusing and off-putting. Recognising this, many “ethical” funds have since been rebranded as the less value-laden “socially responsible investments”, or SRIs.
The reasons for this are logical enough. For one thing, while it would be delightful to bask in the notion of universal ethics for all, the fact is that one man’s tobacco farm employment scheme is another’s Death Valley. Moreover, a change in life circumstances can alter our viewpoint on what is or isn’t ethical. Take drug testing on animals, for example: you might have been vehemently opposed to it at one time, but later medical breakthroughs might have led you to change your opinion.
If you’re considering taking up the mantle of the socially responsible investor it’s worth remembering that there are no perfect companies. Even if a fund makes it through the screening process for being environmentally responsible, it may yet violate the principles of moral responsibility. For instance, a company that receives the all-clear on gambling and pornography might fall out of favour because of its military connections. Of course, there will also be people who happily argue that to create a free world in which good things can happen strong military systems are necessary.
The problem is that it can be difficult for potential investors to see the environmentally sustainable wood for the trees. First, you have to comb through the fine print in the marketing documents to figure out whether the companies really do believe what they profess. Then you have to look at the numbers and decide whether the projected returns are worth putting your faith in. But investing responsibly means just that.
To help distinguish between SRI funds, industry players talk in terms of “dark green”, “medium green” and “pale green” funds. The theory is that the darker the green, the more likely it is that the fund will differ substantially from mainstream share funds. Dark green funds actively seek to invest in industries that input positively into society, such as renewable energy, or water and waste management. Medium green funds are often simply about avoiding contentious industries such as gaming, tobacco or uranium mining. And pale green funds are generally those that select companies that are less bad than their competitors.
The approach most widely used by investment funds tends to be ‘’best of sector’’ or ‘’sustainable’’ investing. The fund manager selects companies with the best environmental and social records of all available funds. When it comes to commercial pressures to produce strong returns, SRI fund managers are in the same boat as any other fund manager.
This isn’t necessarily a violation of their remit: while you may not like the way a supermarket group sources its food, you might acknowledge that its work practices and treatment of employees are both sustainable and sound. In the US, stocks of publicly traded companies that make Fortune’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” also tend to perform exceptionally well. On the face of it such companies might not produce “ethical” goods or services; however, treating millions of workers well is regarded as a major plus point these days.
For most people, the necessity of having a fund manager do the work for them means probably having to accept investing in companies that don’t actively harm, rather than in companies that proactively do some good. However, for the diligent investor who has the time and inclination to do his or her own research, there are plenty of dark green options out there that also provide excellent returns. While we’re not in the business of recommending, a good starting point is to look at clean technology, healthcare, efficient transport, recycling and waste management.
And then there’s the all-important bottom line. Investment returns enjoyed by SRIs in recent years have helped to shatter any lingering view of socially responsible investing as a compromise, where you get to feel good despite the numbers not being so great. Instead, SRIs have shown they can equal and even outperform traditional investment funds.
Ultimately, SRIs are part of the money market. This means that if things generally are bad, SRIs too will perform poorly, as happened with the credit crunch of 2008. It also means that the same caveats apply to SRIs as to any other sort of investment: spread your risk; understand what you’re investing in; balance your portfolio; and decide whether you want growth or income.
Given the multi-layered nature of SRIs it’s possible to be as committed or as casual as you wish. As to whether any one SRI is better than another, as with ethics themselves, the decision is a highly individual one, based both on your own values and on your hard-nosed expectations of what an investment should deliver.
How Going Green Can Save A Company Money
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
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.
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
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 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.