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Saving the world or getting healthy returns is a false choice in finance

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So, which is it for you: whales or your wallet? Do you want to save the world, or do you want financial success? Anna Laycock from Ecology Building Society is on hand to prove that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

For so long, we’ve been told that saving the world or getting healthy returns was the choice, and that the sustainable option was the one that will cost you more, or slow your business growth.

No doubt some will look at Ecology’s latest results – record profits, strong asset growth, savings passing the £100m milestone – and think they’re just an exception to the rule.

But this isn’t a fluke; it’s part of a trend.

Our financial performance is strong because of our principles, not in spite of them. And we’re not alone: globally, sustainable financial institutions make better returns on both equity and assets, as well as boasting a higher average growth rate than the big banks, according to the Global Alliance for Banking on Values.

Institutions across the world, including other pioneers in the UK such as Shared Interest and Charity Bank, share our intuition that an ethical approach is good for business as well as for society and the environment.

Thinking long-term isn’t a compromise: it’s an essential strategy for businesses who want to survive and serve a socially useful purpose

In 2012, the UK’s major banks recorded a rise in core profits of 45% – only to see it wiped out by the cost of past mistakes, including redress for the mis-selling of payment protection insurance. The practices that hiked up profits in the heady days of the credit boom now return as the ghost of a misspent past, hitting the banks where it hurts: the bottom line. Never mind that these practices have been harming our society and our planet for many years.

Throughout Ecology’s 32-year existence, we’ve always been one of the oddities; the financial institution that cares more about the planet than profit; the one that won’t offer bonus rates to tempt in new customers; the one that aligns its pricing to climate risk, not just financial risk; the one that doesn’t want to grow as fast as it possibly can.

Yet where we tread, others follow.

This year we’ve seen larger institutions launch their own energy efficiency discounts, pledge to simplify their products and end the use of bonuses based on sales targets. And in February, Barclays had the stunning realisation that the banking sector has become “too aggressive, too focused on the short term and too disconnected from the needs of customers and clients and wider society”.

We’ve always focused on the long-term, even when long-term was for most people a euphemism for low profit or slow growth. We’ve proved that isn’t true – continuing to grow throughout the financial crisis, posting record profits year-on-year, when the big banks stuttered and failed.

Thinking long-term isn’t a compromise: it’s an essential strategy for businesses who want to survive and serve a socially useful purpose. Sustainable financial institutions don’t pursue growth for growth’s sake – they grow to increase their positive impact, and do so only if their core values can be maintained.

Let’s assume that the big institutions are serious in their commitments to good corporate citizenship. Does it matter why they’re doing it?

It depends whether you want to see a shift in behaviour within the current paradigm – doing ethics and sustainability because they make money – or if you want to see a shift in what we value itself: doing ethics and sustainability because treating people fairly and conserving the environment are good things in themselves.

It’s a little like the debate about monetising natural capital – by monetising the value of sustainability, are we reinforcing the assumption that money is the only thing that matters?  Similarly, campaigners argue about whether we should change behaviour within current value frames or change those frames themselves.

The practices that hiked up profits in the heady days of the credit boom now return as the ghost of a misspent past, hitting the banks where it hurts: the bottom line

Polarising the debate like this can obscure the fact that motives and actions are part of a complex system, not a linear relationship, and we need to encourage any and all points of change in that system.

At Ecology, we want that system to change because, perhaps ironically for an organisation dedicated to sustainability, we’d rather we didn’t have to exist at all. We don’t want to be an oddity. We want all financial institutions to put ethics at the heart of what they do, and to focus on being socially and environmentally useful. So any sign of change in the behaviour of big corporations is a weak signal of hope for the future.

We want to see consumers take the long-term view, too. Those who save with us or borrow from us know that we don’t use headline-grabbing rates or short-term incentives; instead, we offer long-term value and fair treatment.

In an age when little trust exists between most businesses and their customers, and where money is seen as the only thing that has value, it’s understandable why many people prefer short-term gains from transient relationships with institutions. But just as businesses need to consider profit, people and planet as positively linked, so people need to recognise the relationship between their consumption choices and our long-term welfare.

There is no quick buck without a negative comeback, for businesses or for consumers – and certainly not for the planet.

Do sustainability because it’s the right thing to do, or do sustainability because it’s the right thing for your finances. It really isn’t that different. In the end, a planet that can sustain our species is a fairly fundamental precondition for prosperity.

Anna Laycock is communications and research manager at Ecology Building Society.

Further reading:

Annual figures from Ecology bolster case for ethical banking

Values-based banks call for transparency, sustainability and diversity

Sustainable banks more ‘robust and resilient’ than high street institutions

Will Barclays become the world’s first ethical banking superpower?

The Guide to Sustainable Banking 2012

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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