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Encouraging pension funds to divest from land grabbing activities

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Friends of the Earth is running an ethical pension campaign to encourage investors to ask their providers if they invest in land grabbing activities. Emma Websdale spoke with campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran to discuss why it is such an important issue.

According to Friends of the Earth, land grabs are on the rise. Acquiring more information on the scale of the task ahead is the primary aim of its new project – to ask people with private pensions to write to their providers, asking them to reveal whether any of the companies in the portfolio engage in the unethical practice.

A recent joint report by the Munden Project and the Rights and Resources Initiative outlined why and to what extent the issue poses investors numerous financial risks.

What is land grabbing?

“Land grabbing is the large scale acquisition or transfer of land from community use to private investors”, says Kirtana Chandrasekaran, campaigner in Friends of the Earth’s food, land and water programme.

Essentially, it’s the control of the land taken away. This is often in violation of customary life and land use systems, and it often results in massive displacement of communities.

“It is frequently responsible for a number of human right violations – the right to food, the right to housing and human rights clauses against forced evictions. It compromises local food security and sometimes even international food security. It can also lead to devastating impacts on the environment.”

Initial figures from research organisation GRAIN show that pension companies have already invested £10 billion into buying farmland in developing countries – making them one of the largest institutional investors.

“It’s a massive issue”, says Chandrasekaran. “If you just look at the numbers, estimates suggest there are 80-200m hectares of land changing hands as we speak. Some of these deals have already gone through, whilst others are pending.

“The number of people being displaced are in the millions so it is a huge problem; a global problem, and it is happening in several countries.

“This is the tip of the iceberg; funds seem to be massively scaling up their investment in land because it’s seen as giving very high returns but they are not taking the risks into account.

Too few people consider what areas their pensions invest in. A recent survey by the Australia Institute found that while Australians pay more in superannuation (pension) fees than they do electricity on a weekly basis, only a small handful of these investors are actively involved in the decisions made on their behalf by fund managers.

“I think what is happening is a massive disconnection between people and their pensions. Companies do not think it is necessary to provide this information; maybe some ethical ones do but a lot of them don’t”, explains Chandrasekaran.

“The other issue is that most of them are driven by financial returns. The only way to get them to change or to at least take notice of the issue is to get people asking. The more people that ask, the more likely we are to find out what they are doing.”

She goes on to outline the financial risks and consequences involved with investing in unethical pension funds. Failure to secure and complete deals; bad reputations; and disruptions of operations are among the most common risks that face unethical pension companies and their investors. These can wipe out financial returns.

Chandrasekaran adds, “It is a very high risk investment for pension companies because of a number of reasons, for example many of the companies which go into land are not aware of the extremely complex land tenure systems in the majority of countries or d have never worked in the agricultural industry.

“Communities are fighting back really hard and there has been violence in many cases where communities are not heard. A lot of companies have suffered reputational damage.

“It is a risky area to get into. So whether people are concerned if their investments are safe, or for ethical reasons there are big concerns, obviously food security being one. If you look at the crops for which land is being grabbed is, almost none of these are providing food.

“This is a food security disaster waiting to happen. At some point there will be a massive lack of land to grow food, delivering a huge impact on global food prices, which we are already seeing.

“For those concerned with climate change, there are also huge impacts on deforestation. It has been estimated that 24% of all land deals are from forested land.

The launch of the Friends of the Earth’s new programme has been designed to remind customers that they have the right to ask their pension companies where their investments are being turned to.

Chandrasekaran says, The overall long-term aim of this programme is to make sure that people who are putting their money into UK pension plans are not promoting land grabbing within their investments. The first step is encouraging pension plan users to investigate what they are doing.”

“At the UK level we have identified financial investors as really big players. At the moment we are trying to talk to pension companies to raise awareness on the consequences of land grabbing.” 

Friends of the Earth has provided a list of the biggest pension providers, alongside a suggested message which individuals can use to ask their pension providers about their involvement with land purchases.

“It’s about asking the right questions”, Chandrasekaran says.

“We are not telling people to shift, as currently we don’t know who is doing what. What we need are people to start asking questions into whether their pension providers invest in land.”

To understand more about the pension campaign, see here.

Further reading:

Land grabbing poses investors ‘numerous’ financial risks

World must act against land grabbing extractive industries

Are we investing in the future we want for our children and grandchildren?

As the developed world struggles with their economic crisis, our corporate giants turn to developing countries

Investors down under call for ethical investment

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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