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Is green the new black (or simply camouflage for business as usual)?



Peter Michaelis, Head of Equities of the Sustainable Future team at Alliance Trust Investment, asks is green the new black?

This article was originally published in the February 2015 edition of Sustainable Future News

I have worked in Sustainable Investment for fifteen years.  In this time concepts such as stewardship (responsible planning and management of resources), integrating ESG (environmental, social and governance factors), engagement and responsible investment have gained widespread acceptance in the ‘mainstream’ investment community.

Almost all investors are now agreed that these things matter to long-term investment returns. Look at the UNPRI (United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment): nearly 300 asset owners and 900 asset managers have agreed to: ‘incorporate ESG into investment analysis and decision-making processes’. The UNPRI is an international network of investors working together to understand the implications of sustainability for investors and help people incorporate these issues into their investment decisions. Similarly, if you look at the EUROSIF SRI (Sustainable and Responsible Investment) study, this records that €7.1trillion of assets are managed in strategies integrating ESG into their investment; or the fact that 80% of global CEOs ‘….view sustainability as a route to a competitive advantage’.

These would all seem to suggest that the investment community has realised that it was being a little myopic and short term; but that this has now been fixed. It has learnt from the mistakes of the past and investment is a very different game today. So we can all feel happy that the negligence that led to the governance failures of the past decade, won’t happen again.

But is this actually the case? Have these codes, principles and reviews made any fundamental difference to investment practices? Put another way, imagine a fund manager was put to sleep in 2004 and woken up in 2014. Would they notice any major difference in the way the investment world operated? Would they notice investments being held for longer? If they looked at companies, would they notice a greater emphasis on governance and sustainability issues?

Unfortunately, I believe that ‘No’ is the answer to all these questions, in spite of all the commitments made to the contrary.

For, although there are pockets of governance and sustainability research produced, it is still very much the exception. The majority focus, as before, is still on short-term financial analysis.

Take, for example the energy sector. Before BP’s Macondo disaster, which was the largest oil spill in history, there was scant attention paid to safety as a factor worthy of consideration. Then, while the well was spewing out over 4 million barrels of oil 4 into the Gulf of Mexico, there was a period when tables on safety performance were regularly published. However, this is no longer the case. When I look at most research, and indeed company presentations, there is rarely any reference to safety performance.  Yet this was a factor, which less than five years ago, wiped 50% off the value of one of the UK’s largest companies and dividend payers. How could a factor be any more material than this?

Nevertheless, while there has not been wholesale change in the industry to back up the fine aspirations of the UNPRI and Stewardship Code; there are a growing number of people looking   for asset managers who really are embedding sustainability into the way they manage investments. For these people I suggest asking any prospective asset managers the following questions:

1. Describe the trades driven by ESG factors over the last year

2. Select half a dozen stocks in the portfolio and ask for their view of ESG for each of them

3. Who does the ESG analysis and how are they linked to the investment decisions?

4. If CO2 emissions are taxed/priced/regulated more stringently, what happens to the portfolio?

The answers to these questions should help in assessing which asset  managers really have changed over the last ten years and for whom  sustainability and responsibility is anything more than a thin veneer.

Peter Michaelis is the Head of Equities, for the Sustainable Future Team at Alliance Trust Investments.Peter has worked in fund management for over 14 years. Before joining Alliance Trust Investments in August 2012, Peter spent 11 years at Aviva Investors where, most recently, he was Head of Sustainable and Responsible Investment.

Further reading:

Integrating water into our investment decisions

Alliance Trust takes to the road to dispel myths around sustainable investment

Launch of Alliance Trust Savings platform for Blue & Green readers


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



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




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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