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Is a little sin tolerable? Ethical investment and searching for the good

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The Church of England declares war on payday lenders and then it’s uncovered it’s one of their investors. It’s a perfect story. And it draws back the curtain on the difficult business of ethical investment, says Daniel Webster.

Any unfortunate headlines over the Wonga saga were largely nipped in the bud on Friday morning by a frank and disarming interview with the archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, in the feared 8.10 slot on the Today programme. He achieved that through such unorthodox techniques as:

1. Answering the questions
2. Being honest
3. Admitting fault

This isn’t a new idea for the Church of England. It’s had a similar policy towards unscrupulous lenders for 12 years, expanded in 2011 to prevent investment in the new breed of payday lenders such as Wonga that have proliferated in the light of recent economic crises. The recommendation in its ethical investment policy on high interest lenders not to invest in companies with more than 25% of their business in this area is not a cop out, and nor is it tolerating a little bit of sin.

The policy if correctly implemented – and my suspicion is that the investment through a hedge fund in which the church’s pension fund invests is an error rather than a gap in the policy – means that companies engaged in payday lending would not be invested in. However, were there a company that produces databases used for a wide variety of companies, some of which were payday lenders, then investment in this company would be acceptable as long as payday lenders were not the core of their business model.

Where the policy would fail to achieve its ends is if a payday lender was part of a large business engaged in many different industries and the payday lender comprised less that 25% of its business. In this case, the policy would need amending.

And the policy is not rigid. It does not condone everything that isn’t automatically caught by the threshold, and it allows the space for companies to be specifically excluded from investment. I expect that following this revelation, closer attention will be paid and portfolios reviewed to ensure similar embarrassments are avoided.

What should the Church of England invest in? Through the Church Commissioners, it has over £8 billion to look after, most of which is in the pension fund. That’s a lot of money and it takes seriously the importance on placing it where it can do good and trying its best to not do harm. It might make a nice soundbite to say it should do more than minimise harm, but that assumes that’s all they were trying to do. And what if in doing good it might also do some harm; shouldn’t that harm be minimised?

What if in divesting from a company, even one with dubious practices, it causes people to lose their jobs? That’s not necessarily a reason to continue investing, but harm minimisation is an essential part of deciding where to invest. When the amounts of money invested are of the scale they are in the Church of England, the impact of policy decisions can have significant consequences.

We could all envisage an idyllic scenario where the Church of England only invests in companies that do good, that create jobs, respect their workers, contribute to the community and conduct themselves with transparency, candour and are above reproach. And there are companies that are better than others.

But something the church knows better than others is that companies, like any organisation, like the church itself, are made of humans. And humans have that certain something, that je n’ai se quoi, that makes them at times act not in the interests of others, of the world around them, but in the interests of themselves.

It is what Francis Spufford abbreviated as the hptftu (human propensity to fuck things up). It’s what Justin Welby had the gumption to label as sin on the Today programme. And that happens in all areas of life, even in the best companies, even in the churches where we seek to serve God and make him known.

An indication of our commitment to the good is not a naivety about our fallenness, or a refusal to have anything to do with it, but a determination to see places of darkness brought into light.

The Church of England should seek to invest in that which does good as well as avoid in investing in that which conducts palpably bad things. It should invest in enterprises creating jobs, it should invest in organisations stewarding the environment, it should not be put off by the complexities of doing this, or the impossibility of finding perfect companies.

But the responsibility of the Church Commissioners is also to make money. It has a fiduciary duty to the money they manage, it has pensions for clergy which cannot just be donated to good causes. It has to find a way of doing good, minimising harm, and making money.

And one other thing. What if the engagement of the Church of England’s investing bodies with companies encourages them to act better than if they did not engage or invest? What if they looked at all the companies in which they could invest, and what if they found faults with them all and drew their money out?

What if instead they used their power as investors, their votes and annual general meetings, the threat of withdrawal of funds to encourage better actions, lower executive remuneration, better treatment of workers, clarity of supply chains, reduction in corruption, care of the world and contribution to society?

There’s a place where investment in companies is inconsistent with the role of the church in society. And there is a time when divestment should take place. There are times to stand clearly and unambiguously and refuse to have anything to do with something that is not contributing to the flourishing of the common good. And there are times to get alongside those walking in darkness and lead them to the light.

Finding the balance between the two is the role of one as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove. And it appears to be the route the Church of England is endeavouring to take.

Daniel Webster is a parliamentary officer at the Evangelical Alliance. This article originally appeared on his blog.

Further reading:

Wonga, the archbishop and the Ethical Investment Advisory Group: interview

Archbishop ‘embarrassed’ at Church of England investment in Wonga backer

‘We will compete you out of existence’, Archbishop tells payday lenders

‘The church must see caring for the environment as part of morality’

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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