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Ethical investment pioneer: Sebastian Parsons, Stockwood CBS

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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.

Between Co-op and Waitrose there is a strong alternative ownership presence on the high street – even if both organisations could do more!

Where do you want to take the Stockwood Community Benefit Society next?  

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.

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

Further reading:

Stockwood CBS: more than just a financial investment

Farm that inspired The Archers looks to raise £1m from local community

Why I invested in Stockwood CBS

Stockwood CBS: putting a local farm in the hands of the people

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

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.

Driver Reduction?

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

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.

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Environment

Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family

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Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/maschatace

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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