National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) is underway, and we’re publishing daily interviews, conducted by Greenhouse PR, with a different ethical investment pioneer each day until Friday.
UKSIF chief executive Simon Howard kicked things off on Friday, with Sebastian Parsons of Stockwood Community Benefit Society and Paul Ellis of Ecology Building Society at the weekend.
Next up is James Vaccaro, head of market and corporate development at sustainable bank Triodos.
Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about Triodos Bank. What’s your mission?
Triodos Bank helps people’s savings make the world a better place by financing organisations making a positive difference to society and the environment.
What motivates you to do what you do?
Seeing good ideas turn into reality. I love working with people with big dreams and it can be frustrating to see organisations with good intentions not succeeding in making them a reality.
My motivation comes from helping to bring an entrepreneur’s vision down to earth; and it’s through this connection that sustainable finance can really have an impact.
What are the biggest challenges in building momentum for ethical finance?
Habits are hard to change – especially in the context of people feeling anxious about their understanding of finance. Sustainable finance has to feel like an everyday activity; that will only come with practice and experience.
What trends or developments are you most excited about in sustainable and ethical investment?
Individuals are gaining the confidence to engage with and understand investment proposals directly – through share and bond issues. Like the new bond for Greenwich Leisure – it’s the biggest social enterprise in community sport and leisure, and now people can invest in it directly.
What one thing could change the future of finance?
More diversity. Having a small number of huge financial institutions is very unhealthy for a system. We need more institutions – but we also need more types of institutions who bring their own approach, whether impact investing or social investing, crowdfunding or community finance.
Where do you want to take Triodos Bank next?
My role at Triodos Bank is to help us to stay as relevant as we can be within our sustainability sectors. We’re currently looking to see how we can better support finance for energy efficiency, community energy and social care projects.
In the long-term, through our partners in the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV), I’d like to see us take a more proactive role in financial education and enable people to discuss and understand the financial system.
What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?
There is no one who can’t make a difference: whether it’s opening a sustainable deposit account, transferring your fund portfolio or investing directly in an impact-driven investment such as a Social Investment Bond, it will all count.
And it makes much more of an impact if you feel able to talk to other people, like your friends and family, about your experience, your decision process and what you learned.
If you were prime minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?
I’d adopt a cross-government approach to early-intervention. There’s been some fantastic work set in motion by the Early Intervention Foundation, looking at ways in which vulnerable families can be supported while children are young. The logic is that it makes for a very good long-term investment: preventing problems with higher costs down the line.
And there are social investment opportunities that could spring from that. But it is also an approach that could be applicable to all sorts of other policy areas – like energy and agriculture.
What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across, and inspired you?
My favourite investment offer that we worked with was the UK Together Group (Bristol Together, and now Midlands Together) which trains and employs ex-offenders to refurbish housing stock. It’s a really inspiring yet down-to-earth business model which we’ve been lucky enough to work with from the very beginning and it’s great to see it thriving.
Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?
Dorothy Rowe’s The Real Meaning of Money. It’s a must read for anyone who feels anxiety about thinking about role of money in their life.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Someone told me, “It’s amazing what you can achieve if you’re prepared to not take the credit for it”. It’s been credited to Harry Truman, but probably many others have claimed the credit for it since (and he probably didn’t say it first). Either way, it’s really useful if you want to be effective.
If you could encourage people to invest in one thing, what would it be and why?
Technically I can’t advise people to invest in one specific thing – but I would encourage that they do look into and invest a small amount into one thing directly. The process can be quite liberating and is likely to stir up all kind of other interesting and useful thoughts.
Can you leave us with who’d be your ethical investment hero?
Deborah Meaden. She’s not only a huge supporter of many sustainability issues and ideas but also a very professional, rational and down-to-Earth investor. As a public figure, she is a great role model for marrying up sustainability and sound investment principles.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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