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Sharing the responsibility of a green future

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In September 2011, Emily Mackay saw a gap in the market for a website that allows people to put money into a renewable energy project. Twelve months later, Microgenius is a fully-fledged business. She spoke to Joseph Iddison about her journey.

Microgenius is the first platform for community shares in sustainable energy projects”, says Emily Mackay.

It is designed to support co-operatives which to date haven’t had a national platform to display their offer, and to give investors hunting for good places to put their money an easier way to find offers.”

Still in its infancy, and yet aiming to be the market leader in its field, Microgenius is a not-for-profit organisation supporting UK industrial and provident societies with their green projects.

But where did it all begin for Mackay, the company’s managing director?

I worked in the telecoms and media sector for many years, as well as having a big passion for renewable energy and all things green”, she explains.

I spend a lot of my time cycling around everywhere!

I was trying to find interesting green investment opportunities to put my money into, having been told I couldn’t install solar panels on my own roof. I found it incredibly difficult to find those opportunities.

What we’re trying to do is allow people to invest in sustainable energy whilst also supporting community benefit

I discovered there were such things called community shares, essentially shares in cooperatives, but it was very difficult to find them because there was no single place for them to present their share offer to investors.

“The projects themselves told me that they found marketing to investors hard work, particularly as budget and expertise was limited.”

And it was this problem that prompted Mackay to come up with a solution. As a national platform, Microgenius enables community projects to attract more interest and awareness, and is a place for everyday people to find potential investment opportunities in their area – all in one secure online location.

Community shares themselves have been around for a very long time. Industrial and provident societies have been around since the 19th century, so they’re a very well established form of enterprise”, she describes.

But it is only now that we have the technology available – the group investment technology available, and the behaviour of consumers – that is right for this type of platform, making what is already there much more accessible.”

And this is where Microgenius comes in – attracting co-operative projects by offering an affordable, professional avenue of attracting new members.

On the face of it, it could be compared to Abundance – which also allows people to invest in renewable energy projects. The big difference between the two companies, though, is that Abundance deals with large commercial projects, while Microgenius is a not-for-profit focusing on popular community share investment.

We see being non-profit as really important”, Mackay says.

What we’re trying to do is allow people to invest in sustainable energy whilst also supporting community benefit, so instead of taking excess money out of that system – to keep as our own profit – we’re offering a model that helps more money stay within the project.

Community shares are not designed to bounce up and down in value, as with shares on a stock market – they’re very stable from that perspective

And if the society is doing well financially then returns for investors will be better. It also helps projects that are using some of their income to support other projects within their community. We think our not-for-profit model spreads the financial benefit more broadly and is therefore better for society.”

Microgenius sees promoting environmental co-operatives, which offer an equal vote for every investor, as very relevant and important to today’s financial climate.

Industrial and provident societies are an extremely democratic form of enterprise – everybody who invests gets one vote regardless of how much they’ve put in, so you get a say in the running of the project”, Mackay adds.

They pride themselves on that.

Unlike other types of investment, where it is largely out of your hands how that project or business is run, with industrial and provident societies the investor has more control. You have some ability to influence the direction of the project.

With renewable energy projects, you’re often getting a return based on an energy generation tariff which is fixed by government. So there is also some security for the society and therefore the investor there.”

And that is not the only advantage to investing in co-operatives.

Upsides include being able to withdraw your capital. With industrial and provident societies, you are entitled to ask for your money back”, explains Mackay.

If you put £1,000 into a project, you would get interest payments on that, according to how the performance of the project, and then at the point you want to take your money back, as long as the society can afford to do so, you can get your £1,000 back.”

The mere mention of the word ‘share’ might provoke a wince of anxiety in some, particularly in recent times when the market has experienced significant volatility. However, co-operative shares differ significantly to their counterparts in the City.

Community shares are not designed to bounce up and down in value, as with shares on a stock market – they’re very stable from that perspective”, reassures Mackay. “It’s actually a very different kind of capital, it just goes by the same name.”

Another important principle for Microgenius is its honesty.

We’ve put clear information on our website – we haven’t put any waffle! If you like the idea of being able to invest in a renewable energy project, and get a return on that money, then go to our website, take a look at how it works, and take a look at the project information before you click ‘Buy Shares’. If you have any further questions then someone at Microgenius will be very willing to help you, just drop us a line or call.”

So why are community projects started?

The motivations for renewable energy co-operatives are very much environmentally focused. The people who are setting them up are doing so because they have very strong feelings about environmental impact.”

And why would people want to invest in them?

Some people just want to do something really good for their community; some people like the idea of being involved in a society that’s very democratic and knowing where their money goes, in more transparent ways than some traditional investment; and others are looking for a strong but ethical financial return.

We really feel we are at the forefront of alternatives to banking and traditional investment, supporting a significant resurgence in co-operative activity

A year on and Microgenius is now at the forefront of environmental innovation, helping projects across the nation.

The first project to use Microgenius, a biomass project called Woolhope Woodheat, closed early because it was so popular”, explains Mackay.

On the website we currently have a woodfuel project in Greater Manchester called TreeStation closing at the end of October and a hydro turbine from Sheffield Renewables. They’re both wonderful co-operatives set up by experienced and inspiring people, and offering attractive financial returns. We’re in discussion with many other innovative energy co-operatives too. So expect to find many more community share opportunities on the site in future.”

That is now. But what for Microgenius and renewable energy projects in the future?

Our aim is to be the default national platform for community shares”, envisages Mackay.

We really feel we are at the forefront of alternatives to banking and traditional investment, supporting a significant resurgence in co-operative activity. Microgenius hopes to bring community share opportunities to people who would otherwise not have found them thereby supporting social, environmental and financial impact.

And with growing demand for fossil fuels, as well as added pressure to meet ambitious emission targets, Microgenius is hoping to do its bit.

Renewables are massively important”, Mackay concludes.

The question, really, is whether the technology can be implemented fast enough, and energy demand be reduced quickly enough, to achieve sustainable living.

“The government targets are there to be reached and we’re really happy to be contributing to that and getting as many people as we can involved, and that’s the idea of having a national platform for community shares.

It becomes very easy to find those projects to invest in and you don’t have to be massively wealthy to do so either. We’re giving everyone an opportunity to get involved and help to meet those government targets.”

If you are interested in investing in a community project, then head over to the Microgenius website. Or perhaps you’ve been inspired by Emily Mackay’s journey?

I really hope Microgenius is inspiring: I’ve certainly been inspired by many other people and enterprises, so it would be lovely to think that Microgenius is inspiring others too.”

Joseph Iddison is a student in his final year of an English degree at the University of Leicester. He intends to do a master’s in geographical information science and human geography.

Further reading:

Clean British energy in action

Scottish community to become a pioneer in marine power

Investment in Northern Irish wind c0-op ‘exceeds expectations’

Inaugural Abundance project hits funding target

Joseph Iddison is a master’s student at the University of Leicester. Having graduated from the same institution in July 2013 in English, Joseph will start the global environmental change course in September.

Features

What Kitchen Suits Your Style? Modern, Classic or Shaker?

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shaker kitchen designs

A kitchen is the centre of the home. Your kitchen ranges between where friends and family gather, talk about their day, cook meals, have drinks, to somewhere you can just enjoy each other’s company. The kitchen is the heart of the home. But, everyone’s lifestyle is different. Everyone’s taste is different. So, you need a kitchen that not only mirrors your lifestyle but matches your taste too. Whilst some prefer a more traditional design, others want a modern feel or flair – and it’s all down to personal taste.

When it comes to redesigning your kitchen, what style would you go for? It’s a difficult one isn’t it. With so many different styles to go for, how can you know exactly what you want until you’ve seen it in action? Leading kitchen designer, Roman Kitchens, based in Essex, have provided three examples of bespoke kitchens and styles they specialise in, accompanied with beautiful images. This design guide will get you one step closer to picking your dream kitchen for your home.

1. Modern

New home in the city centre? Or even a sleek new modern build? You want a trendy and modern kitchen to reflect your city lifestyle. In modern kitchen design, colours are bolder and fresher, with sleek design and utilities that are distinctive and vibrant.

modern kitchen designs

This modern kitchen is sleek and smooth with flawless design and beauty. Minimalism doesn’t stop this kitchen standing out. Featured walls of wood and vibrant mint green draw the eye, whilst the white surfaces reflect the light, illuminating every nook and cranny of this kitchen. This kitchen features products from Rotpunkt, innovators of modern kitchen design. Made with German engineering, a Rotpunkt Kitchen is the ultimate modern addition to your home. Rotpunkt Kitchens have timeless design and amazing functionality, they work for every purpose and are eco-friendly. Sourced from natural materials, a Rotpunkt kitchen uses 37% less timber, conserving natural forests and being more environmentally conscious.

2. Classic

Prefer a homely and traditional feel? Classic kitchens are warm, welcoming and filled with wood. Wood flooring, wood fixtures, wood furniture – you name it! You can bring a rustic feel to your urban home with a classic kitchen. Subtle colours and beautiful finishes, Classic kitchens are for taking it back to the basics with a definitive look and feel.

classic kitchen designs

With stated handles for cupboards, Classic kitchens are effortlessly timeless. They convey an elegant but relaxing nature. Giving off countryside vibes, natural elements convey a British countryside feel. The wood featured in a classic kitchen can range between oaks and walnut, creating a warmth and original feel to your home. Soft English heritage colours add a certain mood to your home, softening the light making it cosier.

3. Shaker

Any kitchen planner will tell you that the meeting point between traditional and modern design, is a Shaker kitchen. They have a distinctive style and innovative feel. Shakers are fresh, mixing different colour tones with stylish wood and vinyl. The most important feature of a Shaker kitchen is functionality – every feature needs to serve a purpose in the kitchen. Paired with stylish and unique furniture, a Shaker kitchen is an ideal addition to any home.

shaker kitchen designs

The ultimate marriage between Classic and Modern kitchens, this Shaker kitchen has deep colour tones with copper emphasis features. All the fittings and fixtures blur the line of modern and tradition, with a Classic look but modern colour vibe. Unique furniture and design make Shaker Kitchens perfect for the middle ground in kitchen design. Minimal but beautifully dressed. Traditional but bold and modern at the same time. Storage solutions are part of the functionality of Shaker kitchens, but don’t detour from conveying yours as a luxury kitchen.

Whatever you choose for your new kitchen, be it Modern, Classic or Shaker – pick whatever suits you. Taste is, and always will be, subjective – it’s down to you.

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Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy

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Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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