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Mainstream press ‘full of piffle and wind’ on sustainable investment

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Simoney Kyriakou, news editor at Financial Adviser magazine, tells Blue & Green Tomorrow of her experiences with writing and reading about sustainable and responsible investment (SRI).

She describes the naysaying journalists as “publicity-hungry” and urges the press to “dare to be different” – reporting the facts, rather than opinion.

Talk us through your role at Financial Adviser.

As news editor, my main responsibility is to make sure other people write the best possible stories for our readership. I have to monitor the team, ensure stories are relevant and exclusive and helpful for our readership of financial advisers, and to help lead the team by getting top exclusives – although I am rarely allowed to write these unless we are on a tight deadline.

How did you arrive at this point in your career?

I’ve been around the block and actually have come back to this. I’ve been an editor, group editor and freelance and was invited back by Financial Adviser’s editor Hal Austin to run the newsdesk as he was looking for a news editor.

The average person on the street generally finds finance and investment rather dull topics. How do you try and make them interesting?

Nobody claims that their monthly salary is boring. Nobody gets their payslip and ignores it because they find it dull. So why should they think that a pension or saving to make their monthly pay go further is dull?

It’s a myth perpetuated by the industry that money is boring. I don’t believe that. So I start with their payslip. What do they feel when they get paid? Once you have them here, they’re yours to preach to.

When did you first learn about SRI?

I wrote a piece on this in 2000, I think, or 1999 when I started out. It was about whether pension funds wanted to go down the ethical route. It didn’t gain much traction!

How would you rate the general approach of the mainstream press to SRI?

The mainstream press is full of piffle and wind. One week they love ethical funds and run huge pages on ethical investment; the next they are advocating the next big thing. News is news. Plus they quote the same old people all the time and generally financial advisers that appear all the time in the nationals are just not interested in ethical funds.

How would you rate the general approach of the trade press to SRI?

The trade press does a better job, because they have specialisation and most of us have to take relevant financial services qualifications that make us think more deeply about topics. Also bear in mind that as we write for financial advisers, we have to reflect more of their own views and to involve a wider range of opinion and information.

Do you think most financial journalists ‘get’ SRI?

Not really. It is usually SRI for everything – corporate social responsibility, social impact, impact investing. There’s usually little differentiation and again, many journalists go to the same old media tarts for quotes, and these guys haven’t changed their opinions since 1999.

What one thing could the press – both mainstream and trade – do to encourage greater uptake of SRI?

Dare to be different. Find new people to quote! Do your research better and more thoroughly. Actually make use of Morningstar or FE Trustnet data to get proper performance comparisons that are fact-based, rather than opinion-based. You can’t argue (successfully) against facts.

How has your coverage of SRI issues influenced your personal life?

Well, I have been putting a significant portion of all my defined contribution (DC) pensions into ethical funds and so far these have done splendidly. When I mentioned this to my own financial adviser, he pulled a face like he’d sucked on a lemon. I then showed him the outperformance of this one fund against all the others – Jupiter Ecology – and he looked shocked, then sheepish. “You’re lucky, then”, was his comment. You can’t win them all.

Secondly, after I won an SRI journalist award in 2001, I have been more engaged with the subject and I think this has helped to give me some credibility in this space. It means that when I make purchasing choices, I often think twice about buying from companies that have operations in countries with poor human rights/governance issues and will buy from others.

I like to buy Fairtrade or local produce rather than just go to the supermarkets. I’m no saint but I like to put my money where my mouth is. But then I always have tithed 10% of my earnings for religious reasons since I was a child, so making ethical shopping or investment decisions was a no-brainer for me.

What do you see in terms of the future of SRI journalism?

Sadly in the short-term, I see more of the same, ill-informed opinion being spouted by young upstarts aching to make a name for themselves by banging an old drum that will resonate with the most people. But there are some newcomers who, since the financial crisis, have been more interested in where their own money goes and I see some changes at the real grassroots level.

Once the publicity-hungry journos have finished with their self-congratulatory spiels and the naysaying financial advisers have run out of arguments to justify not using SRI within a portfolio, then more decent, well-researched and balanced articles will come out. Give it a couple of years.

Simoney Kyriakou is news editor at Financial Adviser magazine.

Further reading:

Telegraph article ‘wrong’ about ethical investment

The Investors Chronicle’s masterclass in misleading ethical investment headlines

‘There are no moral or ethical considerations when investing’

A more reasonable face of ethical investment reporting

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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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

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.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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