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Sustainable investment in the age of technology

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Since the first ethical investment fund launched in 1985, screening out so-called ‘sin stocks’ such as tobacco, arms, alcohol and pornography, sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) has come a long way.

There is now a wide range of ethical investment options to suit different investor values and the debate about what constitutes as ‘ethical’ has continued.

In recent years SRI, and in particular high social impact investing, has seen growth as investors become more conscious of the impact their money can have. The total value of the 80 green and ethical funds in EIRIS’ universe now stands at £12.2 billion . The collective assets under management of the 134 funds in Blue & Green Investor’s fund library suggest this figure could be a conservative estimate.

The increasing diversity of green and ethical funds has undoubtedly positively impacted on the growth of the sector as it becomes more mainstream, but other factors have also had an affect. Advancement in technology has been one of these factors.

Investors can now see the tangible impact their investments are having on the world around them and people across the globe. Being able to search and share information online appears to have closed the gap between investor values and where their investments are placed.

This has made many investors keen to match their investments to their ethical values as closely as possible, whilst still maintaining healthy returns. A YouGov poll for National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) confirmed this. Almost two-thirds of investors questioned indicated that they want to be offered sustainable investment options.

“Technology, especially the internet and social media, has increased transparency and facilitated communication”, said Mike Appleby, an SRI analyst at Alliance Trust Investments.

This has raised awareness about business practices that can be far from perfect, and given the general public easier access to information.

“I this it is easier for non-governmental organisations to campaign and raise awareness on issues of concern. We think this is positive and can drive a significant amount of the general public to realise that they do have a choice in how their money can be invested and may lead them to SRI as a strategy for investing.”

Technology has also allowed news to travel faster and reach more people. As a result, investors know almost instantaneously when a company has been found to be acting unethical.

For instance, sports brand Nike was accused and heavily criticised for the use of sweatshops during the 1990s. The company initially denied the claims, but in 2001, director Todd McKean admitted that the company had taken an “irresponsible” attitude to its manufacturing factories.

The fact that it took over a decade for Nike to admit the use of sweatshops, despite the high-profile accusations, demonstrates how difficult it was to circulate news and spread the word before social media sites, mobile technology and increased connectivity.

In contrast, when a Bangladesh building, containing clothing factories with products destined for the west, collapsed in April 2013, the news and information about which companies were involved travelled quickly across the globe.

The collapse led to widespread discussion about corporate social responsibility (CSR) across global supply chains and which companies were ethical.

The speed that news can now travel means that companies have to act quickly in order to limit damage if they are found to be acting unethical. But what is the best way for public relation teams conducting damage control to act?

In the case of the Bangladesh factory collapse, numerous companies signed up to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh in a bid to demonstrate improving standards.

The accord will cover over 1,000 Bangladeshi garment factories and is a five-year legally binding agreement. The move appears to have been generally well received by the public.

By comparison, the decisions Starbucks made when it was found to be tax avoiding in the UK and other European countries seemed to enrage the public more.

In October 2012, the coffee shop brand was found to have paid just £8.6m in corporation tax in the UK, despite generating over £3 billion in sales. This included no tax having been paid on the £1.3 billion of sales in the three years to 2012.

A YouGov poll suggested that Starbuck’s brand image was substantially weakened following the news. The company’s commitment to pay £20m in corporation tax didn’t appease campaign groups or politicians.

The sustainable and responsible investment sector is growing and as the world becomes increasingly connected, companies are going to find it more and more difficult to hide any unethical behaviour. As a result, those companies that are leaders in ethics, responsibility and sustainability are now are likely to benefit, and in return their investors, in the long run.

Further reading:

Ethical, responsible, sustainable: what should we call enlightened investment? 

Calls for greater investment transparency applies to more than ethical funds 

We’ve had 20 years of sustainable investment and is the world getting any better?

‘Saints or sinners’ of ethical investing is out of date thinking

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013

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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Environment

How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool

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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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