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The law of ecocide: investing in innovation to benefit people and the planet

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International barrister Polly Higgins believes that the destruction of our environment is a crime, and one for which those responsible should be held accountable.

In an interview with Will Ferguson of Triodos Bank, she explains how the law of ecocide could end destructive environmental practices, and that the power to make it happen is in your hands.

Life affirming law

Money is a tool for good or for destruction, and likewise law can be life affirming or life destroying. It just depends on where you align it. At the moment it is the law for a company to put its shareholders’ interests first, which means to maximise profits.

So it doesn’t matter if you’ve someone in the boardroom saying, “I’m not really keen that we’re causing mass damage and destruction to the Alberta tar sands”, if they’re told by the corporate lawyer sitting there, “Tough, quite frankly your number one duty is to maximise your profits.”

That’s how the law of ecocide comes into its own. It will shift those priorities. It will say first and foremost do no harm, and then make profits. That’s the key driver here.

Can you imagine a world where it is the law that you can only invest in innovation that’s beneficial for people and the planet? Suddenly banks cannot invest in these destructive dinosaur technologies and industrial practices because this is criminal activity, and it is mandatory for business to ensure that its practices do not cause harm. It stops the flow of money to projects causing environmental damage. It turns off the tap upstream.

Morals before economics

Maybe sometimes we need crisis to focus our minds and recognise that what we’re doing is ultimately unsustainable and untenable morally. We’ve done it before in history and we’ll do it again.

The abolition of slavery was really the recognition of the moral imperative trumping the economic imperative. When William Wilberforce came along and fought for the abolition of the slave trade, his big thing was that it’s not about closing down companies; it’s about giving them the legislative framework so that they can reinvent themselves in the other direction.

One of the key people in this was Charles Grant, who was one of the biggest businessmen of the day. He agreed with Wilberforce and spoke out and said, “Morally, this is wrong, full stop.”

When he did that from a business perspective, two things happened. Government didn’t just listen; it took action, because hearing it from business is very important. But he also gave permission for other business leaders to stand up and demonstrate that same bold moral courage and leadership.

This is what we’re lacking today: the ability to dare to be great; to stand up and say this has to stop, it’s not working. No matter how we look at it, commoditising the planet and just destroying it for want of profit over a very short period of time just does not work. To raze forests and ancient peatlands and wetlands – natural carbon sinks that have taken thousands of years to create – just for want of a little short-term profit and a bit of energy for 40 years, just does not equate. It does not balance the books. Fundamentally, it does not work and therefore it must stop.

Power in your hands

What happens next is in our hands. An ecocide directive has been put forward by the European Citizens’ Directive, whereby citizens can vote for the law they want. We have only until January 2014 to get one million votes. If we do, this gets tabled to become a European law, which of course has huge implications for international law, and Europe becomes the leader for massive change.

And here’s the thing. When William Wilberforce came along calling for the abolition of slavery, everyone said, “You’re mad. You can never do that. It will lead to economic collapse. Slavery is a necessity.” But there was no economic collapse, and slavery was proven not to be necessary.

And Wilberforce didn’t have Google or Facebook. We do. Go to the website, press that button and vote. All the power you need is at the tip of your finger. We did it with slavery, genocide and apartheid, now we can do it with ecocide.

This article was first published in The Colour of Money, Triodos Bank’s customer magazine. You can subscribe for free here.

Further reading:

UN: global crime conflicts with sustainable development

Climate change aside, we’re harming our children with dirty energy

Why our quality of life is sacrificed by the continued use of fossil fuels

Climate change is murder

The World of CO2: infographic analysis

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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