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Using your mouth as well as your money: charities investing for change

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In October last year, investors called on charities to lead the way on responsible investment. And now, more than ever, they are able to use their clout as investors to achieve their charitable goals, as Douglas Hull of Charity Finance Group (CFG) writes.

One issue that we can expect to hear more of in 2013 is responsible investment. Now more than ever, charities are taking a holistic view of their activities and considering how they can use all of their assets in the interests of their mission and beneficiaries. Using investments for social objectives is one way of doing this.

We debated this issue with some leaders in the responsible investment field towards the end of last year and a common theme that emerged was a growing appetite for using positive screening and corporate engagement as a campaigning tool to further the charity’s mission.

Whilst many charities try to influence companies through their campaigns, those which are shareholders have a unique capacity in this area, a point highlighted by Al Gore in a speech I attended in October. Not only do their shares enable them to attend company annual general meetings (AGMs) and vote on company affairs, but being a shareholder also enables them to develop a reciprocal relationship with the company.

With their funds invested, it is in a charity’s interests for the company to be successful in the long run, and this enables a partnership between the two to develop, with the charity challenging the company where its activities run contrary to a charity’s mission or supporting it where there is a joint  long-term interest.

As Catherine Howarth, CEO of FairPensions, pointed out at our debate, companies like to be pushed, and charities are in a perfect position to take on this role.

Charities have huge moral force as investors, and surveys continue to find that they are among the most respected and trusted groups in society, but also that there is a strong public desire for them to be open and transparent about all of their operations. A survey carried out by YouGov for UKSIF released in October reported that almost 60% of British investors believe that UK charities have a responsibility to take a lead on ‘stewardship’ issues – engaging with the companies they invest in and challenging them if they perform poorly on particular issues.

Unlike screening them out, investing in companies and challenging them offers an opportunity for charities to showcase their position as forward-thinkers on key issues in society, further their campaigning work and shape future debates.

There have been several positive examples of engagement and the impact it can have. Several FTSE100 companies have recently adopted policies to ensure that their staff are paid the Living Wage, following pressure from FairPensions, charities and others through pooled funds. FairPensions has also worked with Amnesty to support their high-profile campaign calling on Shell chief executive Peter Voser to commit his company to take responsibility for damage to the Niger Delta. WWF has a well-established Living Planet Fund, which enables them to engage directly with companies in which they invest.

Useful tips for organisations looking to develop an active engagement strategy as part of their investment policy include:

– Forging close links between the finance and policy/campaigns teams within the charity to ensure their interests are aligned. Adrian Warburton, finance director of WWF-UK said at our debate that aligning WWF-UK’s business engagement policy with its investment policy was crucial in ensuring that their corporate engagement strategy was as effective as possible.

– Consult your investment manager on their engagement strategy, and challenge them to do more if necessary; fund managers want your business so should respond to your demands.

– Attend AGMs and other meetings of companies in which you have shares in; these offer great opportunities to put your views across. It’s worth taking time in advance to plan a few key questions to ask, and thinking about how to phrase them to ensure a meaningful response.

– Make a point of thanking companies if they do respond positively to your campaigns; this ensures the development of a lasting healthy and collaborative relationship, and leaves the door open for future engagement.

Traditionally, discussions about responsible investment by charities focus on negative screening approaches, focusing on minimising harm caused to beneficiaries or to the charity’s reputation by abstaining from investment. However, charities can also look more creatively at how they use some of their investment portfolio to bring about the lasting change they were set up to achieve.

Investing in a pooled fund or directly in a company in order to gain a say in how it is run can be a powerful tool to change adverse corporate behaviour and make a strong contribution towards positive change in society today.

Douglas Hull is policy and membership officer at Charity Finance Group (CFG). This piece originally appeared on CFG’s blog.

Further reading:

Charities told to lead the way in responsible investment

Bringing ethical investment back to its roots

Let’s make ethical investment bigger and better in 2013

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2012 (NEIW edition)

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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