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Mobilising money to close the equality gap

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We’re all too familiar about the power of money to generate ever greater inequality. But Niall Cooper asks whether we can turn the power of money on its head, and use it as a force for good. Can we use the power of money to close the gap between rich and poor?

Church Action on Poverty is used to trying to make change happen with next to no money. So Monday was a first for me, as I co-chaired an event with an organisation whose members collectively manage more than £15 billion in investments.

No, I haven’t gone over to the dark side, and joined Goldman Sachs – this was the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR), whose 50-odd corporate members include many of the major churches, and whose pensions and investment funds collectively run into billions of pounds.

The churches have become increasingly good at speaking out on growing inequality, and a bit less good at mobilising their thousands of members to take action – but what about using their billions of pounds as financial leverage to help close the gap between rich and poor?

Monday’s event demonstrated that there are effective ways in which ethical investment policies can be used to promote more ethical corporate behaviour in relation to low (and high) pay and in relation to tax dodging. At the same time, there is still a long way to go.

As readers of my blog will now be well aware, there is an increasingly powerful case for tackling the growing gap between rich and poor in the UK (let alone globally). Duncan Exley, of the Equality Trust/One Society reminded us of the weight of academic evidence represented by The Spirit Level, that high levels of inequality have profound social and economic costs and consequences for the whole of society – including, but not limited to its poorest members.

What is increasingly becoming clear is the extent to which the behaviour of major UK and global corporations have contributed to growing inequality in recent years – and conversely the role that they could (or should) play in narrowing the gap.

Whereas there is a long history of ethical investment, shareholder activism and corporate social responsibility in relation to militarism, alcohol, gambling and a host of other social and environmental concerns, there has been far less interest in the ethics of pay or tax. Monday’s event brought together more than 20 representatives of interest groups, church and society types and ethical investment advisers in an attempt to start to fill that gap.

Tackling the pay gap

The first and most obvious area of debate has been in relation to corporate pay policies – both at the top and at the bottom. The High Pay Commission has been highly successful in raising awareness of the need to rein in excessive pay and remuneration packages at the ‘top’, whilst the Living Wage campaign has made the case (with some success) that a living wage is not just an ethical imperative – but also makes good business sense. The Methodist Church’s Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment (JACEI) produced an excellent briefing on the living wage in 2012.

Over the past three years, ShareAction (formerly FairPensions) has led a powerful campaign among ethical investors and fund managers to persuade the UK’s top companies to sign up to pay a living wage. In 2011 only one FTSE 100 company had adopted a policy to pay all their UK employees (and contract staff) a living wage.

However, as a result of shareholder activism, in which church investors have at times played a key role, that figure has now risen to 11. Catherine Howarth, CEO of ShareAction, sees no reason why this figure can’t double in the next couple of years, provided institutional investors keep up the pressure, and the momentum within the world of corporate fund managers continues to grow.

Tackling the tax gap

More recently, attention has also started to focus on the area of fair taxes – and tax avoidance. In an age of austerity, when public finances are under extreme pressure, and spending cuts are having a damaging impact on many groups, large-scale corporate tax avoidance has come under increasing public scrutiny.

There has been growing media coverage of a number of high profile corporate tax dodging schemes since the Autumn, not least as a result of the public accounts committee inquiry into the affairs of Starbucks, Google and Amazon.  But until recently, there has been a dearth of hard information as to the behaviour of major companies in relation to tax avoidance.

In April, ActionAid published the highly useful Tax responsibility: an investor guide, a detailed guide for investors and businesses seeking a more socially responsible approach to corporate tax. More recently still, a civil society consortium led by Richard Murphy of the Tax Justice Network has recently launched the Fair Tax Mark to promote transparency and fairness in the tax affairs of companies.

Initially focusing on 25 major high street businesses (but extending to other sectors in due course), the Fair Tax Mark scores companies against a range of indicators – from which they are given a green, amber or red. So on this score, here’s a big up for Greggs (15/15) and a big no-no to Carphone Warehouse, WH Smith and Sainsbury’s (2/15).

Much remains to be done to get the corporate world to take its responsibility to pay their fair share of taxes seriously, but again, the investment community has a key role to play in mobilising what is effectively our money – for good.

So, what’s your own church’s ethical investment policy in relation to fair pay and fair taxes? And, if you’re lucky enough to have a pension or investments, is your money being used to widen or to close the gap between rich and poor? Isn’t it time you asked?

ECCR will shortly be launching an Ethical Money Churches project (contact john.arnold@eccr.org.uk if you are interested) which is looking for congregations and churches to participate in thinking what ‘ethical money’ means to them to promote and express the Christian perspective on making money a force for good.

Niall Cooper is national co-ordinator of Church Action on Poverty. This article originally appeared on his blog.

Further reading:

‘We need to tackle the root causes of inequality and poverty’

Lies from politicians and the media ‘create harmful divisions in society’

We can no longer sit comfortably with the myths behind poverty

Responsible investment can help crack down on tax avoidance

Clamping down on excessive executive pay

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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