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Ethical investment pioneer: Paul Ellis, Ecology Building Society

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National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) begins today, and we’re publishing daily interviews, conducted by Greenhouse PR, with a different ethical investment pioneer each day until Friday.

Following UKSIF chief executive Simon Howard and Sebastian Parsons of Stockwood Community Benefit Society is Paul Ellis, chief executive of Ecology Building Society.

Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about Ecology. What’s your mission?

Ecology mobilises the power of people’s money to move towards a more sustainable future, supporting positive environmental and social change.

What motivates you to do what you do?

I have an overwhelming desire to make a difference for people and the planet. It’s hard to say where it comes from; I’ve felt a sense of connection with nature all my life.

When I was younger, I used to walk to college every day – it was quite a few miles – and I spent the time thinking about life and my attitudes towards the world. I realised that everybody has a place in society and should be rewarded accordingly. This sense of social justice and fair reward is very much a part of my concept of sustainability.

What are the biggest challenges in building momentum for ethical finance?

We need to radically increase the visibility of actors in the ethical finance world. As a sector, we need to give people confidence that social business isn’t second class business and that investing in the social economy doesn’t bring undue risk.

What trends or developments are you most excited about in sustainable and ethical investment?

At this time, more than ever in the 32 years that Ecology has existed, we’re seeing ethical finance organisations come together to promote the sector. We have a newfound confidence that our propositions aren’t inferior or niche, but essential for a sustainable economy.

We have a unique window of opportunity to spread the word. Five years on from the financial crisis, the problems of our economy are clear for all to see, and digital communications channels are enabling us to articulate the alternative loudly and well, to a wider audience.

Our ideas have power, people are passionate about them and we can mobilise this enthusiasm to bring about a better system for everyone.

What one thing could change the future of finance?

Regulation – by which I mean the whole spectrum of those who dictate the context in which we work. The government and regulators need a wider, long-term vision of what’s required for a genuinely sustainable economy, rather than being driven by short-term aims.

We need to reengineer the infrastructure of the financial system away from excessive risk and towards social and ecological value.

Where do you want to take Ecology next?

I’m confident that our growth will continue: we are strong at the core. We can draw on deep reserves of passion from our members and a clear view of what needs addressing in the world.

Our task is to ensure our housing doesn’t exacerbate the problems we face as a result of climate change, and to support community ventures and businesses that create the building blocks of a sustainable economy.

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

Two things. First, we all need to make the conscious choice to change our lifestyles, so that we’re not using more than our fair share of resources. Second, we need to understand that we have the power to make change at any time, through the way we use our money.

It’s simple: avoid the bad and support the good. And we should proudly proclaim ourselves as bleeding heart dogooders – what’s wrong with that?

If you were prime minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?

I’d create a cross-ministerial unit with real power to pull together a national plan for sustainability.

What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across, and inspired you?

I hugely admire the work of SIDI (Solidarité Internationale pour le Développement et l’Investissement www.sidi.fr), a microfinance organisation based in France.

SIDI uses finance to build the capacity of organisations in developing countries to address their particular social and environmental challenges. They engage directly with people on the ground, acting in a truly social way. I’d like to see something similar in the UK – it must be possible.

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?

Seeing Green by Jonathan Porritt. It has stood the test of time since 1984 and lays out clearly what we need to do to secure our future.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t take yourself too seriously. (I don’t!)

If you could encourage people to invest in one thing – what would it be and why?

The provision of renewables in developing countries – it can make an immense difference to resource-poor societies and low-carbon development benefits everyone.

Can you leave us with who’d be your ethical investment hero?

For me it has to be David Pedley, the solicitor who initiated the creation of Ecology at a Green party (then Ecology Party) conference in 1981. He saw a problem and made something happen, when virtually nothing was happening in ethical and sustainable finance in this country. And what he set up has stood the test of time.

National Ethical Investment Week 2013 runs from October 13-19. Join the debate on Twitter using the hashtag #moneydoinggood.

Further reading:

It’s banking, but not as we know it! Ecology Building Society’s AGM

Saving the world or getting healthy returns is a false choice in finance

‘A small bit of knowledge can help empower you around your own finances’

Swimming against the tide: ethical banks as countermovement

The Guide to Sustainable Banking 2013

Environment

How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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home automation to go green

The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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Environment

Working From Home And How It Reduces Emissions

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Many businesses are changing their operating model to allow their employees to work from home. Aside from the personal convenience and business benefits, working from home is also great for the environment. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, if employees with the desire to work from home and compatible jobs that allowed for this were allowed to do so only half the time, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating automobile emissions from the workforce of the entire state of New York. Considering the stakes here, it is vital that we understand how exactly working from home helps us go green and how this can be applied.

Reduction of automobile emissions

Statistics by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the transportation sector is responsible for about 14% of the total Global Emissions of greenhouse gases, which is a very significant percentage. If employees work from home, then the need to travel to and from their workplace every other day as well as other business trips are reduced considerably. While this may not eliminate the emissions from the transport sector altogether, it reduces the percentage. As indicated in the example above, a move to work from home by more businesses and industries cuts down automobile emissions to as much as those from an entire state.

Reduction of energy production and consumption

According to Eurostat, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning accounted for as high as 26% of the Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU in 2014. EPA stats are also close at 25% of the total emissions. This makes energy production the single largest source of emissions. Working from home eliminates the need for large office spaces, which in turn reduces the need for electricity and heating. Similarly, the need for electrical office equipment and supplies, such as printers and computers, is also greatly reduced, which reduces the emissions from energy production in offices. Additionally, most households are now adopting green methods of energy production and implementing better ways of energy usage. The use of smart energy-efficient appliances also goes a long way in reducing the energy production and consumption levels from households. This, in turn, cuts down emissions from energy production from both the home and office fronts.

Reduced need for paper

Paper is also a huge source of emissions, considering that it is a carbon-based product. EPA stats show that carbon (IV) oxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes accounts for 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Working from home is usually an internet-based operation, which means less paper and more cloud-based services. When everything is communicated electronically, the need for office paper is reduced considerably. Moreover, the cutting down of trees for the sake of paper production reduces. All these outcomes help reduce the emissions and individual carbon footprints.

Effective recycling

While businesses make an effort to recycle it is not as effective as homeowners. Consider everything from the water you drink to office supplies and equipment. While working from home, you have greater control over your environment. This means that you can easily implement proper recycling procedures. However, at the office, that control over your personal space and environment is taken away and the effectiveness of recycling techniques is reduced. Working from home is, therefore, a great way to go green and increase the adoption of proper recycling.

Takeaway

Even though the statistics are in favor of working from home to reduce emissions, note that this is dependent on the reduction of emissions from home. If the households are not green, then the emissions are not reduced in the least. For instance, if instead of installing a VPN in the router to keep the home office safe, an employee buys a standalone server and air gaps it, the energy consumption is not reduced but increased. Therefore, it is necessary that employees working from home go green if there is to be any hope of using this method of operation to cut down on the emissions.

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