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Ethical investment pioneer: Simon Leadbetter, Blue & Green Tomorrow



It’s the final day of National Ethical Investment Week, and therefore the last in Greenhouse PR‘s ethical investment pioneers series. In the interview seat to round things off is Blue & Green Tomorrow’s founder and publisher Simon Leadbetter.

Previous interviewees in the series include: UKSIF chief executive Simon HowardSebastian Parsons of Stockwood Community Benefit SocietyPaul Ellis of Ecology Building SocietyJames Vaccaro of Triodos BankClaudia Quiroz of Quilter CheviotJohn Ditchfield of Barchester GreenClare Brook of WHEB Asset Management and Mark Hoskin of Holden & Partners.

Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about Blue & Green Tomorrow. What’s your mission?

Investment shapes our future more than anything else. We encourage people to invest in, and buy from, companies that are sustainable.

What motivates you to do what you do?

My initial motivation was the realisation that investment (my previous industry) was doing something profoundly wrong to our planet. Securing short-term profits, regardless of the long-term impacts on the environment and society, was untenable.

My children, William (three) and Sebastian (one), added greater urgency. My generation and the ones preceding will leave a terrible legacy for our children. How could I look them in the eye, when they are older, and say I had the choice and did nothing?

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

The name ethical finance has different connotations for people and harks back to the roots of the sector in the abolitionist and negative screening, of which we are rightly proud. Sustainable, responsible, socially responsible or impact investment better convey what the sector is about today.

That said, whatever we call the space, all of those involved in it need to be much more vocal in championing the economic, societal and environmental benefits of this investment strategy. And it is not about being purist. Just 10% of a portfolio invested sustainably to mitigate against the risks of population growth, pollution, resource scarcity and biodiversity loss is a smart and sensible diversification.

People don’t need to compromise their values to secure substantial investment income and growth. They certainly don’t need to compromise their children’s future to do so, either.

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

The sector’s clear growth and increasing interest from governments, institutions, NGOs, intermediaries and individuals. A new generation of environmentally-conscious, digitally connected investors is just beginning to invest significant sums. To them, environmental protection and human rights are the norm.

At a click of a mouse they can see what is going on in far flung places and se who are the culprits for environmental and social harm. Sustainable investment was a niche to previous generations of investors – it will be the norm for future investors. This is where smart investment and sensible capital is going.

What one thing could change the future of finance?

Greater taxation on, and stricter regulation of, the polluters, the resource inefficient and the human rights abusers. The free market is exceptional at delivering what people need and has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system, but even Friedrich Hayek recognised the limits of the market in addressing and pricing externalities (pollution and harm).

If the father of modern classical liberal economics can see the value of state intervention in correcting this flaw, classical liberal investors and governments should do so too, even if they believe in unfettered markets more generally.

We use tax and regulation to discourage individually harmful activities such as smoking and drinking. It’s also a valuable source of tax revenue for austerity governments. Surely we should use tax and regulation to discourage activities that self-evidently harm our planet and its people.

Where do you want to take Blue & Green Tomorrow next?

I’m keen to expand our reach in the UK, but also globally. Securing correspondents in America, Africa and Asia would give us a voice on the frontline of sustainable investment and climate change.

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

Move your money. All the energy-saving light bulbs, electric cars, environmentally-friendly products and recycling is for nothing if your savings and investments are investing in oil, gas and mining. It’s really easy to find out where to put your money, or where not to put your money, at

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

Direct all the money that we plan to spend on Trident (£100 billion) at developing renewable energy. Investing in cold war weapons to defend against a threat that does not exist, rather than developing domestic energy security and mitigating the clear and present danger of climate change, is delusional and irresponsible.

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

This is going to sound odd but windmills and watermills are cool. Ever since I saw my first watermill as a child and made one out of cardboard (not a great material to use for a watermill, I’ll confess) I remain amazed by how a tiny volume of water can create so much power. I can’t pass running water now without thinking, there’s a waste of energy…

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

Life Inc. by Douglas Rushkoff. It clearly articulates why we’re in the economic mess we’re in. I read it at a youth hostel in New Zealand in 2010, shortly after reading The Corporation, and it pushed me a long a journey to work towards understanding sustainability.

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

Seek forgiveness, not permission – and never be afraid to be fired.

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

Juliet Davenport – CEO of Good Energy.

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

Further reading:

‘Positive’ investment worth £1.6bn in the UK

63% of UK investors want to be offered sustainable investment options

£11 billion invested ethically in the UK: infographic analysis

Survey: environmental issues concern ethical investors the most

The Guide to National Ethical Investment Week 2013

Greenhouse is a sustainability communications and PR agency. Visit for more.


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By 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 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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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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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