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Sustainable financial advice: IFA Helen Tandy on values-based investment

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Helen Tandy, financial adviser at Manchester-based Gaeia, gives advice to clients on sustainable, responsible and ethical investment.

Speaking to Blue & Green Tomorrow, she tells of the increasing trend of people wanting to do good with their money.

How did you get into sustainable, responsible and ethical financial advice as opposed to financial advice more generally?

I started my financial services career with a building society and, although I really enjoyed my work and the team, I was starting to feel as though there was something ‘missing’. I was trying to lead a more sustainable life and didn’t feel this was totally reflected in the job I was doing. I wasn’t able to provide any ethical financial advice and I felt strongly that this was an important area which I wanted to be able to support and recommend to clients going forward. This led to me moving: firstly to part of the Co-operative Group and then to Gaeia.

Tell us about your firm, its history, team numbers and what you see as its expertise.

Gaeia is currently celebrating 20 years in business. Established in 1993, it is one of the UK’s longest established ethical financial advisers. We are currently a team of three financial advisers, working with a dedicated client support team. Each of the advisers is committed personally and professionally to adopting a more sustainable way of living and reducing our carbon footprints.

Our founder was a keen environmentalist and human rights campaigner and we want to follow in her footsteps. Gaeia merged with Castlefield Investments Partners in September 2011 and Castlefield and Gaeia are sister companies within the same group. This means we are now able to work very closely with a team of discretionary managers providing advisers and clients with ethically screened fund advice in-house. We’re based in the centre of Manchester, close to Piccadilly Station and just around the corner from great tram and bus links.

Why do you think people should consider investing sustainably, responsibly and ethically?

In the early years of ethical investment, people wanted to be able to avoid companies involved in tobacco or the arms trade – known as negative screening.  Nowadays, socially responsible investors want to do much more than that. They want to actively support employers with beneficial social and environmental policies and invest in companies that produce goods or services that make a positive impact, for example, producing renewable energy or tackling water pollution and deforestation.

If you buy fair trade goods, support independent local shops, make careful choices when buying general products and services and care about the impact we have on the environment, then you are likely also to want to be able to make financial choices that reflect your own values and principles.

Is there a compromise to be made between getting a return on investment and ‘doing the right thing’?

Whilst many of our clients want to consider the impact of their money, rather than just the rate of return, the best sustainable and ethical investments do offer excellent returns. In a recent survey from moneyfacts.co.uk, ethical funds have outperformed non-ethical funds in the last three years, up 36% on average compared with 31% for the average non-ethical fund.

Are there any sustainable, responsible and ethical funds that people should be looking into and talking to you about?

As financial advisers, we want to find out as much as we can about clients interests, values, principles and priorities, as well as having a comprehensive picture about their current and future financial commitments before we would begin to investigate a balanced portfolio to meet their current and future needs. The ethical investment options have grown considerably over the last few years and after careful consideration, we would be able to offer clients a number of investment choices.

What, if anything, is stopping sustainable, responsible and ethical investment from taking off in the UK?

Not enough financial advisers in the UK feel confident to discuss ethical options or ask clients the necessary questions. And, if they are asked for ethical investment advice, anecdotal evidence shows that they often prefer to talk the client out of investing in this area. At Gaeia, we’ve always tried to engage other financial advisers and encouraged them to find out more about the ethical sector.

The more we can encourage people to move their money in an ethical direction, the more impact money that is invested responsibly can have. This is why I was keen to support Blue & Green Tomorrow last year with its Sustainable Investment Bootcamp, helping to train other financial advisers and generally spreading the word about the range of ethical investment options.

What trends have you noticed in sustainable, responsible and ethical investment in the past year?

As I mentioned above, the trend is towards making positive investment choices and actively seeking out funds which minimise environmental impact and global warming. Investors are also concerned with governance: how does a company treat its employees, are its supply chains open and transparent? What they don’t want are companies that pay lip service to ethical and environmental concerns and are involved in a greenwash.

If people do not invest sustainably, responsibly and ethically what is the biggest consequence for them?

Putting money into investments that deplete the planet’s resources makes no sense whatsoever. We should be focusing on a more equitable society, where everyone has a better chance of succeeding and leading more sustainable lives. It’s about thinking about the long-term, rather than focusing on short-term gains.

If you were stuck on a desert island, which famous person would you like to be stuck with and why?

I met Deborah Meaden briefly at a PEA Business Awards event. She supports a number of environmental charities and initiatives including the annual Observer Ethical Awards. She is also an ambassador for the WWF. It would be great to know more about her work with this organisation and where the passion came from. I am also a keen Strictly Come Dancing fan, so I’d love to hear all about her involvement in the show.

What’s your prediction for the next 10 years of sustainable, responsible and ethical investment?

I’d like to think that in the next 10 years, ethical investment will have become mainstream. Many people are already used to recycling, reducing their energy usage and considering their environment. I hope that making ethical choices when it comes to money will become second nature for many people, too.

Helen Tandy is a financial adviser at Gaeia.

Further reading:

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013

The Guide to Ethical & Sustainable Financial Advice 2013

The Guide to Sustainable Funds 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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