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Small is beautiful: why alternative banks need to step up to the mark



Recent developments at the Co-operative Bank highlight not only the frailty of larger banking institutions, but also the desperate need for sustainable alternatives.

First, the Co-operative Group revealed a loss for 2012. Then a deal to buy 632 Lloyds branches – once lauded as “the biggest shake-up in high street banking in a generation” – collapsed. And just last week, ratings agency Moody’s downgraded the Co-op Bank’s debt rating to ‘junk’ status, in relation to its 2009 merger with Britannia Building Society.

Chief executive Barry Tootell swiftly resigned (though not because of the downgrade; he was apparently planning on doing so anyway) and it was speculated that the bank might need to be bailed out by the taxpayer – a rumour that it rushed to quash.

Despite the most recent unwanted headlines, not a lot is likely to change for Co-op customers in terms of the service they receive. That said, the bank’s reputation has clearly taken a significant hit.

The Co-op has long been the most mainstream challenger to the high street orthodoxy. Its 6.5 million customers means it is by far and away the most popular alternative financial institution in the UK. But it’s also one of very few that offers day-to-day banking services.

Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Banking 2012 profiled the Co-op, as well as some of the other key players in the alternative space. But out of the six featured institutions – the Co-op, Triodos, Ecology Building Society, Charity Bank, Unity Trust Bank and Reliance Bank – only the Co-op and Reliance Bank offer current accounts to individuals.

This is a failing of the alternative banking sector that needs addressing urgently.

The Move Your Money campaign, which encourages people to move away from the big five, knows about this gap in the market all too well. Its chief executive, Laura Willoughby, tells Blue & Green Tomorrow that a page called Where can I move to? attracts the most visitors to its website.

The question we are asked the most is, ‘Where should I move to?’”, she says.

It’s frustrating to greet such enthusiasm for switching with, ‘It’s complicated.’

At the same time, the appetite for alternative banking is at an all-time high. In 2012, Move Your Money estimated that over 500,000 people switched to more ethical banks – away from the big five. And Willoughby says more recent data suggests this number is significantly higher now.

What we have then, is an evident desire for alternative banking but a distinct lack of current account options for individuals. In other words: an opportunity for smaller financial institutions.

Triodos Bank recently revealed that it was having a “serious hard look” at the possibility of opening a current account, and the Post Office’s offering goes nationwide in 2014. Meanwhile, other current accounts from building societies in Coventry, Cumberland and Leeds rank highly in Ethical Consumer magazine’s best buys, as of February 2012.

But despite there being some really excellent smaller, more sustainable, alternative options for banking customers, the fact of the matter is there simply isn’t enough. It’s not a question of lack of demand; it’s a question of lack of supply.

Technology is also a problem. People in the younger generation in particular want their current accounts to come with all the necessary bells and whistles for 21st century banking, such as smartphone and online access.

But very few alternative providers offer accounts with these features, reducing the choice for consumers even smaller.

Alternative finance doesn’t just mean banks that have an obvious positive social or environmental benefit. It means banks that are focused on benefitting the local economy; banks with different business models; banks owned by its members.

Handelsbanken, Metro Bank and Secure Trust Bank are just three examples of banks that are perhaps not markedly ‘ethical’, but provide customers with another option that isn’t the big five.

Smaller banks, mutuals, building societies and credit unions need to step up to the mark. The UK is crying out for greater alternative everyday banking options. Note this opportunity and act upon it.

Our banking system is dominated by a narrow clique of big banks, but the key to a prosperous, long-term focused economy is diversification – as well as transparency and sustainability. Breaking up the banks will be difficult, but in the immortal words of John F Kennedy, “We do these things because they are hard.”

Further reading:

It’s banking, but not as we know it! Ecology Building Society’s AGM

New scheme rolled out to assist UK credit union growth

‘A small bit of knowledge can help empower you around your own finances’

Swimming against the tide: ethical banks as countermovement

The Guide to Sustainable Banking 2012


How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool



eco-friendly pool for home owners
Licensed Image from Shutterstock - By alexandre zveiger

Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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4 Ways To Get a Green House in 2018




green house and homes
Featured Image From Shutterstock - By

Demand for green houses is surging. In 2020, almost 20% of all homes on the market will be green.

If you would like to buy a green home, this is a great time to look into it. Prices are still pretty low and there are a lot more financing options available than there were right after the recession.

If you’re thinking about buying a house, now could be a very good time to make the move! A number of factors in the housing market right now mean that you might be able to afford your dream home. Although in many parts of the country house prices are still rising, if you do your research and plan wisely, there are lots of good schemes to help you get your foot on the property ladder, or trade up to the house you’ve always wanted.

Interest Rates and Stamp Duty

Although the Bank of England raised interest rates by 0.25% recently, they remain very low, which is good news if you’re thinking of taking out a mortgage. However, rates may not stay low and it’s predicted that there’ll be a further rate rise during 2018, so don’t wait too long. Another factor that’s going to help first time buyers in particular is the Chancellor’s decision to abolish stamp duty for first timers purchasing properties for under £300,000.

Different options

For many people looking to buy a green home, raising a deposit of between 5% and 20% may not be a realistic option, in which case there are a growing number of schemes to help. Increasingly popular are shared ownership schemes, through which the buyer pays a percentage of the full value of the property (typically between 25% and 75%) and the local council or a housing association pays the rest, and takes part ownership. This is suitable for buyers who may struggle to meet the up-front costs of buying outright. There will often be a service charge or management fees to pay in addition to the mortgage. The Government’s Help To Buy scheme is a good place to start looking if you’re interested in this option. This scheme is now available to people looking to buy green homes too.

ISA Options

If you’re still saving for a deposit, another scheme is the Help to Buy ISA. You can get a 25% boost to your savings on amounts up to £200 per month with this scheme. It’s only open to first time buyers and you can claim a maximum of £3000.

Other costs

Green home buyers are going to run into a number of other ancillary costs, most of which are common to other homebuyers.

When calculating how much you can afford, it’s vitally important to remember that buying a house comes with a whole host of other costs. Depending on the cost of the property that you’re buying, you may have to pay stamp duty of anywhere between 1% and 5%. There’ll be estate agents fee if you’re also selling a property, although there are a wide range of online estate agents operating such as Purple Bricks or Right Move that have lower fees than traditional high street companies. Conveyancing costs to a solicitor can add another £1000-£3000 and you may need to take out life insurance and hire a moving firm.

There are other initial costs such as, fixing parts of the home that aren’t upto your taste. Getting new furniture to fill up all the new-found space in your new home. If you are moving away from the city, you need to consider the cost of transportation as well, as it can take up quite a lot over time. Take your time, do your homework and shop around and soon you could be getting the keys to your perfect home.

I hope this article was useful for you to learn more about the basics that you need to be aware of before you start the process of buying your first home. If you have any doubts with regards to this, let us know through the comments and we will be glad to help you out. If you have any suggestions regarding how we can improve the article, let us know them through the comments as well for us to improve.

Do you have any other reservations against buying your first home? Do you see your house as an asset or a liability? Do you think it is important for everyone to get themselves a new home? Let us know through the comments.

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