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The Co-op Bank has been spiky, fearless and political; it’s imperative it remains ethical

Amidst The Co-operative Bank’s financial problems and the scandals and political mudslinging of recent weeks, it’s easy to forget how much of a pioneer the bank has been. As an antidote to the cynicism, we present The Co-operative Bank’s Greatest Hits.

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Ahead of Friday’s crucial deadline for bondholders voting on whether to accept the Co-operative Bank’s rescue package, Ryan Brightwell writes how customer power could be the difference over whether it remains ethical.

After the most scandal-ridden fortnight in the Co-operative Bank’s history, it’s difficult to believe that only eight months ago the bank seemed on the edge of a breakthrough. The Project Verde deal held out the chance of a shift from a ‘niche ethical player’ to a major force in British banking, with over 1,000 branches, co-operatively owned and with a hard-edged ethical policy in place.

For those who applauded what the bank stood for, it was a dizzying proposition. We knew it would be difficult – four years after the merger with Britannia, they still felt like two different businesses – but those in charge of running the numbers told us it could be done.

Fast forward to the present day, and not only have the expansion plans been shown to be wildly hubristic given the bank’s financial position, but its reputation has been taken a severe blow courtesy of the Paul Flowers scandal, and its future hangs in the balance.

Click here to read The Guide to Sustainable Banking 2013

The crucial deadline for bondholders voting on whether to accept the rescue package is this Friday. If investors reject the plan, the alternative is likely to be ‘resolution’, or takeover by the Bank of England, with dire consequences according to the Co-operative Group. If it accepts then there will be rapid movement to seal the deal with the hedge funds.

The Save Our Bank campaign was set up to ensure that the bank’s ethical policy remains in place whatever happens, and to help the bank eventually return to co-operative ownership. We want to make sure that the hedge funds set to take over 70% of the bank will be tied in to keeping not only the policy but the external auditing and transparent reporting that will help make sure it stays robust.

The news of recent weeks has led some to take the view that this all goes to show that the banks are all as bad as each other. That would be to ignore the extent to which the Co-operative Bank has campaigned hard, and often with considerable success, on issues that few other companies, let alone banks, dare to go near. In contrast to the ‘cuddly’ tag given to it by commentators who were not paying enough attention, the Co-operative Bank at its best has been spiky, fearless and political.

Evidence of this can be seen in the bank’s campaign for international bans on both landmines and cluster munitions – bans which are now in place. Its 2002 campaign on cluster munitions involved not just raising finance for mine clearance in warzones, but funding and putting its name to new research on the humanitarian impacts of these indiscriminate weapons.

More recently in 2006, the bank backed Friends of the Earth’s Big Ask campaign, as a result of which every MP in the land received a letter from a Co-operative Bank customer urging them to support strong climate legislation.

The bank’s campaign to stop tar sands extraction in Canada, like the cluster munitions campaign, began with funding new research to understand the problems in detail. It also involved backing a legal challenge by the indigenous Beaver Lake Cree Nation against the oil companies to stop drilling on their territory.

And of course, it has been the ethical policy itself which has given the bank legitimacy to campaign on these topics. It was back in 1992 that the bank first polled its customers on where they did and didn’t want their money to go, resulting in a policy of denying finance to, among others, manufacturers of arms for oppressive regimes, companies involved animal testing for cosmetics and those failing to uphold basic human rights.

Since then the policy has been updated several times, including in 1998 when it was extended to exclude the fossil fuel industry, an early precursor the fast-growing fossil fuel divestment campaign of today. And the bank has withheld well over £1 billion to businesses which fail to meet these standards – standards backed overwhelmingly by its customers.

Let’s not forget these genuine achievements and others, which stand in stark contrast to the record of the rest of the banking sector. (To pick just one example among many, the World Development Movement showed just last month how all of the big five British banks – HSBC, Barclays, Standard Chartered, RBS and Lloyds – are complicit in fuelling climate change and destroying communities through their financing of an Indonesian coal boom.)

And talking of stark contrasts, let’s not forget that HSBC’s chairman at the time the bank was found to be laundering money for Mexican drug cartels, Stephen Green, has been made Lord Green and now sits as trade minister.

Thousands of customers have signed up to the Save Our Bank campaign so far, while 20 charities and campaigning organisations have backed our declaration on the ethical policy. If we can reach a critical mass of customers, we can help influence the outcome, and help save what made the Co-operative Bank head and shoulders better than the rest.

To help secure the bank’s ethical policy please sign up with Save Our Bank before Friday’s crucial vote.

Ryan Brightwell is a researcher with BankTrack, founder of the research consultancy Bright Analysis and a former employee of the the Co-operative Group.

Further reading:

Campaign group to Co-op customers: ‘don’t switch yet; let’s stick together’

Co-op Bank says ethics are in its constitution – but should we believe it?

Former Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers arrested

Co-op Bank to close 15% of branches, as hedge funds take control

Ethics, mutuals and the Co-operative Bank’s unclear future

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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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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