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Understanding how your savings and investments are used is integral to sustainability

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Penny Shepherd, chief executive of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), spoke with Alex Blackburne about National Ethical Investment Week, the Green Investment Bank and encouraging individuals and businesses to think more sustainably about their finances.

Now into its fifth year, National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) is arguably the sustainable investment industry’s most important event. Fronted by UKSIF in collaboration with The Co-operative, Ecclesiastical and CCLA, it’s a chance to create real discussion about the green and ethical finance and investment options on the market, and get the notion out to a wider audience.

Penny Shepherd is one the sector’s most recognisable names, having been chief executive of UKSIF since 2005. As executive director between 1997 and 2001, she helped bring socially responsible investment to the fore. UKSIF’s membership tripled during these four years and Shepherd was awarded an MBE in 2000 for “services to sustainable economic development and socially responsible investment”.

Twelve years on, she’s still as passionate about green and ethical investing as she was from day one, and recently outlined some of her thoughts to Blue & Green Tomorrow.

Another year; another National Ethical Investment Week. What has been different about it this year, though?

It has grown and deepened each year. The thing we’re particularly enthusiastic about this year is the involvement of church groups. They’ve really got behind the week brilliantly. Our model for success is Fairtrade Fortnight and we’re very conscious of the degree to which church groups were absolutely pivotal to the success of that. We’re seeing them doing things up and down the country.

NEIW is a wake-up call for people to understand more about how their savings and investments have an impact on the world, and understand the options that are available to them

It’s very important to have a dedicated week in addition to communicating throughout the year because it’s about all of us raising awareness at the same time. We can have much, much more impact than just communicating during the week. It’s about having critical mass.

Why did you choose to base NEIW on Fairtrade Fortnight?

At Fairtrade Fortnight, there are lots of people up and down the country undertaking events and activities at the same time – everything from running events through to mentioning it to a friend over coffee. But because that is then backed up by a higher concentration of media coverage during the week, people are more likely to hear it from multiple places, and that means that it’s more likely to have an impact.

What effect has NEIW had on the ethical investment industry in terms of interest?

We’ve seen both the number of events growing over the last few years, and also the number of financial advisers involved. Last year, there were 50 events taking place up and down the country which was a 21% increase compared to 2009, and those events took place at 18 locations. Three hundred and fifty financial advisers were involved last year in some way, and that was a 40% increase from 2009.

Religious groups were particularly targeted this year. Just how important are they in spreading awareness of ethical investment?

Very, because as with Fairtrade Fortnight, they’re a group that reaches out into their communities and can spread the word as to what is possible. And really, what we’re trying to achieve with NEIW is two things; dispelling the common myths that are still out there, and therefore to help people get better informed about modern green and ethical investment, but also, after the financial crisis, I think there’s a general recognition that we all need to understand better how our savings and investments are used, and not just leave that to the professionals.

It can be very easy to put that off, and so NEIW is a wake-up call for people to understand more about how their savings and investments have an impact on the world, and understand the options that are available to them.

In order to grow the ethical investment sector, do you think it’s just a case of presenting investors with the ethical, sustainable or responsible option?

One of the key things that we would say is that green and ethical investment has grown and developed over the last 25 years and there are a range of ways and motivations for doing it – everything from responsible ownership through to the traditional negative screening. And an increasing range of options are deliberately tailored to have social or environmental impacts. For example, things like investing in community wind farms where there are a number of options available at the moment.

I suppose part of what we’re communicating is that it makes sense to understand the area better and to consider dipping your toe in the water. There can be a range of motivations, which includes a desire to make money as well as a desire to make a difference in the world.

There’s also a strong case for simply outlining to oblivious investors what it is that their money is going towards. Do you think this is a wise step to take?

Yes, but you need to also say that there are then a range of things that you can do about that, particularly with savings, investments and bank accounts. Move Your Money says that over half a million people have already switched bank accounts from the major banks to ethical alternatives, but what’s also true is that in the last year, we’ve seen the shareholder spring. And so it’s also about investing with fund managers that are using their powers as owners to improve corporate behaviour, as well as making decisions about whether you want to change the investment selected.

Part of what we’re communicating is that it makes sense to understand the area better and to consider dipping your toe in the water

What’s stopping ethical investment from truly becoming mainstream?

I think that it’s a number of things. One thing is that there are still a lot of misperceptions – people think it’s all or nothing and are often concerned with performance. Another is that green and ethical investment only means the traditional funds, but equally, I think there are some challenges about mainstream fund managers communicating what they’re doing, so for example, many fund managers are now signed up to the Principles for Responsible Investment, but that isn’t always well communicated to the retail market in particular.

Socially responsible investment teams at Henderson and Aviva were both closed down in the last 12 months. What impact do these closures have on the industry?

What we’re seeing at the moment is wider restructuring taking place within the investment management sector. And it isn’t surprising that there is some impact on sustainable and responsible investment from that. But in fact, if you look at both Henderson and Aviva, when the team that was formerly at Henderson moved over to WHEB, Henderson didn’t close its SRI funds; it just shifted to using external research. In essence, those funds are still available in the market; they’re just managed externally rather than internally. And then if you look at what happened within Aviva Investors; they moved away from managing equities in London to managing fixed-income, so the key feature of the Sustainable Futures Fund is that they were by-and-large equity funds, so they no longer fitted with the Aviva Investors strategy, so it wasn’t surprising that it made sense for them to find a new home.

Meanwhile, Aviva Investors strengthen their institutional commitment to responsible investment by promoting Steve Waygood to chief responsible investment officer. And if you look at who has probably been one of the most vocal investment industry leaders on the subject of sustainability and corporate responsibility over the last few months, then it’s been Paul Abberley from Aviva Investors. I certainly don’t see those developments as weakening sustainable and responsible investment; really quite the reverse.

You were part of the advisory group for the Green Investment Bank, which this week received state aid approval from the European Commission. What was the group’s role?

We advised the secretary of state on the early stages of creation of the bank. For example, issues like reviewing of the state aid application. What we weren’t responsible for was individual investment decisions; and quite rightly so.

The key point that the advisory group made to the secretary of state was that it was important to make a rapid decision, because the climate change imperative meant that the bank needed to be up and running and making effective investments as soon as possible.

The advisory group ran up until when the board of the Green Investment Bank was appointed. So when it was announced that Robert Smith had been appointed as chair, it was actually announced at the same time that the advisory group had been disbanded because basically our job has been done. In fact, last week they announced the non-executive directors of the bank, and one of those was Tessa Tennant, who is a former UKSIF chair and very much a pioneer in this area, so that’s very good news.

The primary purpose of the Green Investment Bank is to speed the allocation of capital into green infrastructure

What do you think the main positives of the Green Investment Bank are?

One thing that UKSIF is very pleased about was the strategy of doing smaller investments through placing mandates with specialist fund managers, and what we’re very pleased about is of the four mandates that have been placed so far, three of them have been placed with UKSIF members. That’s completely independent to my role on the advisory group, I should say, but the non-domestic energy efficiency mandates have both been placed with UKSIF members, with Sustainable Development Capital and Equitix, and then one of the earlier waste management mandates was placed with the Foresight Group.

What are your thoughts on the location of the bank? Many commentators were disappointed that Edinburgh – an established financial hub – was chosen, rather than a town or city that perhaps wasn’t as thriving economically.

Our concern was particularly about the speed of making a decision, and I think that we were happy that the decision was not unduly delayed. Edinburgh is a one of the UK’s leading financial centres, but there was a very long list of towns and cities that applied to be the host.

The primary purpose of the Green Investment Bank is to speed the allocation of capital into green infrastructure. In order to do that, it needs access to a deep pool of people skills. And so actually, one of the criteria that was used in assessing location was therefore the potential specialist employee base available. But the other thing to say is that actually, the number of people directly employed by the GIB is relatively small. It’s not a number that’s going to make a material difference to the economic development of any area.

Long-term, its aim is to accelerate the financing of green infrastructure, but it acts to finance green infrastructure up and down the country, so the job creation impact is on the projects in which it invests, rather than the number of people who are working for the GIB. The GIB seeks to invest in the best projects across the UK – there is no suggestion that as a result of its location, it will be more likely to invest in Scotland compared to Wales or England.

There was certainly a school of thought that would have liked it to have been based in London, and certainly some of the dealmakers will be in London. But I think the underlying issue is that the decision has now been made and therefore the GIB is free to move on and to achieve its aims and the next critical milestone is the state aid application. The most significant outstanding issue from our point of view is the question of borrowing powers.

Finally, what would you say to individuals, businesses and policymakers in order to encourage them to act more ethically, sustainably and responsibly with their finances?

The world is changing and how money is made in the future will be different, and we are already seeing the evidence that taking into account environmental and social factors should help you both to make money in the future and also make a difference in the world.

National Ethical Investment Week runs until Saturday, October 20. Join the movement on Twitter using the hashtag #NEIW12.

If you would like to know more about the sector and receive copies of our most recent reports, you can sign up to our weekly newsletter here.

Further reading:

The dynamic future of sustainable investment

Green Investment Bank given go-ahead by EU

£11 billion invested ethically in the UK: infographic analysis

Ethical investment demand rises as individuals turn to sustainability

Ethical investors are not tree huggers, but air breathers (and responsible global citizens)

Features

What Kitchen Suits Your Style? Modern, Classic or Shaker?

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shaker kitchen designs

A kitchen is the centre of the home. Your kitchen ranges between where friends and family gather, talk about their day, cook meals, have drinks, to somewhere you can just enjoy each other’s company. The kitchen is the heart of the home. But, everyone’s lifestyle is different. Everyone’s taste is different. So, you need a kitchen that not only mirrors your lifestyle but matches your taste too. Whilst some prefer a more traditional design, others want a modern feel or flair – and it’s all down to personal taste.

When it comes to redesigning your kitchen, what style would you go for? It’s a difficult one isn’t it. With so many different styles to go for, how can you know exactly what you want until you’ve seen it in action? Leading kitchen designer, Roman Kitchens, based in Essex, have provided three examples of bespoke kitchens and styles they specialise in, accompanied with beautiful images. This design guide will get you one step closer to picking your dream kitchen for your home.

1. Modern

New home in the city centre? Or even a sleek new modern build? You want a trendy and modern kitchen to reflect your city lifestyle. In modern kitchen design, colours are bolder and fresher, with sleek design and utilities that are distinctive and vibrant.

modern kitchen designs

This modern kitchen is sleek and smooth with flawless design and beauty. Minimalism doesn’t stop this kitchen standing out. Featured walls of wood and vibrant mint green draw the eye, whilst the white surfaces reflect the light, illuminating every nook and cranny of this kitchen. This kitchen features products from Rotpunkt, innovators of modern kitchen design. Made with German engineering, a Rotpunkt Kitchen is the ultimate modern addition to your home. Rotpunkt Kitchens have timeless design and amazing functionality, they work for every purpose and are eco-friendly. Sourced from natural materials, a Rotpunkt kitchen uses 37% less timber, conserving natural forests and being more environmentally conscious.

2. Classic

Prefer a homely and traditional feel? Classic kitchens are warm, welcoming and filled with wood. Wood flooring, wood fixtures, wood furniture – you name it! You can bring a rustic feel to your urban home with a classic kitchen. Subtle colours and beautiful finishes, Classic kitchens are for taking it back to the basics with a definitive look and feel.

classic kitchen designs

With stated handles for cupboards, Classic kitchens are effortlessly timeless. They convey an elegant but relaxing nature. Giving off countryside vibes, natural elements convey a British countryside feel. The wood featured in a classic kitchen can range between oaks and walnut, creating a warmth and original feel to your home. Soft English heritage colours add a certain mood to your home, softening the light making it cosier.

3. Shaker

Any kitchen planner will tell you that the meeting point between traditional and modern design, is a Shaker kitchen. They have a distinctive style and innovative feel. Shakers are fresh, mixing different colour tones with stylish wood and vinyl. The most important feature of a Shaker kitchen is functionality – every feature needs to serve a purpose in the kitchen. Paired with stylish and unique furniture, a Shaker kitchen is an ideal addition to any home.

shaker kitchen designs

The ultimate marriage between Classic and Modern kitchens, this Shaker kitchen has deep colour tones with copper emphasis features. All the fittings and fixtures blur the line of modern and tradition, with a Classic look but modern colour vibe. Unique furniture and design make Shaker Kitchens perfect for the middle ground in kitchen design. Minimal but beautifully dressed. Traditional but bold and modern at the same time. Storage solutions are part of the functionality of Shaker kitchens, but don’t detour from conveying yours as a luxury kitchen.

Whatever you choose for your new kitchen, be it Modern, Classic or Shaker – pick whatever suits you. Taste is, and always will be, subjective – it’s down to you.

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Features

Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy

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Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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