National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) starts on Sunday, and we’re publishing daily interviews, conducted by Greenhouse PR, with a different ethical investment pioneer each day.
Simon Howard, UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) chief executive, kicked things off on Friday.
Next up is Sebastian Parsons, who has turned his family home – Rush Farm – into an ethical investment opportunity.
Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about the Stockwood Community Benefit Society. What’s your mission?
To provide an ethical investment that will protect our organic farm in perpetuity.
What motivates you to do what you do?
I am primarily motivated by ideas, by living pictures of how things could weave together, support each other, and collaborate. I am also motivated by a desire to protect a little area of the Earth, through which it can breathe safely and easily.
It is really important to me that the people around our projects have the chance to engage with their work in freedom and discover, if they so wish, its meaning and purpose.
What are the biggest challenges in building momentum for ethical finance?
For me the biggest challenge is that ethical finance is widely connected with social enterprise and the third sector. Let me stress that I am really happy that social enterprise and the third sector exist, but can you imagine such organisations not being ethical? That is really sad and bad, too, perhaps.
For me, the breakthrough comes when people realise that mainstream business can be ethical. The challenge is to explain how, and I suspect that answer lies in the ownership models. For it to work there has to be healthy return on investment, but there must be clear protection against the iniquitous commoditisation of money and corporate capital.
What trends or developments are you most excited about in sustainable and ethical investment?
Platforms like Ethex really help as they make entry into ethical investment so much more straightforward. They also provide a filter, setting a standard so that investors can chose the activity they want to support, confident that they will be supporting something sustainable and fair.
What one thing could change the future of finance?
The competition to win the attention of the consumer is so fierce, and quite right. However, if a certain quality, such as ‘ethical’, is perceived as desirable to consumers then straight away people will start jumping on the bandwagon.
I hope that new organisations will emerge that provide consumers with reference points. However, I am reluctant to foist another set of standards (like ‘Fairtrade’ or ‘organic’) on the world! If one brand could become known as truly ethical, become a consumer touchstone, and be so structured that it cannot sell out – and be desirable to consumers – that might push things towards a new lift off.
The Stockwood Community Benefit Society is a foundation, a platform for so much more that is yet to come. It is a physical base from which to operate, that shines out our intention.
We’ll be developing new ownership structures for the commercial activities that we operate from the Stockwood Business Park. We will be operating our portfolio of businesses in a collaborative way and hopefully helping many other ethically-minded organisations to win competitive advantage and out-compete their more ‘blood-thirsty’ competitors.
What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?
Buy sustainably-sourced and ethically-created stuff. Be kind to your family, as well as your colleagues, and if you feel really grumpy, then try shouting into your pillow…
If you were prime minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?
A transaction tax on share dealing so that the stock market slows down and becomes focused on building portfolios that return profit rather than make capital gain.
What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across, and inspired you?
Dr Hauschka skincare inspired me deeply. A 50-year-old supply chain that spreads around the globe providing a fair return to its suppliers and uncompromising quality, created out of a profound understanding of the skin and human being.
That’s a touchstone for me. I have known people change their whole lives because of starting to use Dr Hauschka Rose Cream – it teaches people what real quality feels like.
Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?
The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. Read it and then live the standards with your colleagues in the outputs of your organisation.
Also, engage with the Grubb Institute. My deepest inspiration comes from Rudolf Steiner. When an interesting co-incidence happens, let yourself live with the idea that maybe it wasn’t a co-incidence after all.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t believe your own sales forecasts, and whatever you do, definitely do not plot them on a graph!
If you could encourage people to invest in one thing, what would it be and why?
I would encourage them to invest in the Stockwood Community Benefit Society because of what will be directly achieved, and because of what will be built on the foundation that it will provide.
Can you leave us with who’d be your ethical investment pioneer?
Right now my ethical investment pioneer is Jamie Hartzell, the founder of Ethex, because he has seen what is needed and is creating a really professional and accessible way in which this ethical investment movement can consolidate and build momentum.
I am really happy to have Martin Large on our board too, though, because he is a real radical and has been behind a host of pioneering projects, not least of which is Fordhall Farm.