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Unity Trust: the bank for the social economy

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This time last year, Barclays chief executive Antony Jenkins made a bold statement to the bank’s 140,000 employees across the world. Unveiling a set of five ethical values – respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship – he called on staff to quit if their own morals didn’t sit squarely with their employer’s.

This article originally appeared in The Guide to Sustainable Banking 2013. 

The rules have changed”, he said. “You won’t feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won’t feel comfortable with you as colleagues.”

His comments were welcome, given the 12 months the bank had had – including the Libor fixing scandal, tax avoidance accusations and executive pay revolts.

But some of the smaller players in the banking world were left scratching their head, for the five-pillared ethical values Jenkins had outlined were already at the heart of their organisations, and had been for years.

We have social change and community benefit at the heart of everything we do”, says Peter Kelly, business development and marketing director at Unity Trust Bank – a specialist bank for social enterprises, charities, trade unions, councils and other organisations operating in the social economy.

Formed in 1984, its grounding principles – which remain as strong as ever today – include phrases such as “embracing the philosophy of the common good” and “not principally influenced by the maximising of the profit motive”. Given the scandals and irresponsibility that litters our newspaper front pages about banking, with these uncharacteristic values, you start to question whether Unity Trust is a bank at all.

But a bank it certainly is. But one that seeks to achieve social impact in everything it does,

Our mission is to achieve growth by being socially-focused, customer-centred and commercially-driven”, explains Kelly.

We take great heart by the fact most of our customers want to do business with us – because we’re specialist and customers often feel that we are aligned to their values.”

As well as the obvious cultural and ethical differences between it and the high street names, Unity is set aside in another way, in that its customers are very specific. It doesn’t offer banking services to individuals (and has no plans to), and instead focuses entirely on the social economy.

Among its customers are housing associations, trade unions, community development finance institutions (CDFIs), councils and community interest companies.

The other thing for us is that all the staff at Unity believe passionately in the bank’s values”, Kelly adds. “Equally, we have very high levels of customer satisfaction.”

He describes Unity’s staff as the bank’s “most important asset”. And for evidence of its commitment to the people who work for it, it introduced an employee ownership scheme in 2013.

The government’s independent adviser on employee ownership, Graeme Nuttall, outlined the benefits of employee ownership in a recent review. Such schemes, he said, “[create] successful businesses in which employees enjoy working and which deliver wider benefits”.

For an organisation that talks about being here to promote the common good, and to provide social and community benefit, it is just entirely right for us to enable our people to have a stake in the organisation”, Kelly says.

We’re not moving to a model of entire employee ownership, but this is really important in the cultural progress and future of Unity Trust to enable our people to have part-ownership of the organisation to make them feel part of it.

If you look at research, you find that employees who have a share in an organisation tend to have lower staff turnover, better staff morale and in turn, we strongly believe that will lead to even better customer satisfaction, because our people are involved in the organisation. It was a no-brainer to us, and it’s been extremely well received by our employees.”

As well as this, in April, Unity Trust became the first British bank to receive Living Wage employer accreditation. Employers with this certification pay all workers over the age of 18 rates of at least £8.55 an hour in London, and £7.45 elsewhere in the UK – significantly higher than the national minimum wage of £6.19 for employees aged 21 and over.

Richard Wilcox, the bank’s managing director, said at the time, “As a socially responsible bank founded on strong social values, this is a natural step for Unity.”

It’s hoped that this emphasis on its staff – as well as its strong, socially responsible founding principles – places Unity Trust head and shoulders above mainstream banks competing for similar customers.

Kelly concludes, “My message to any organisation choosing a bank is to think beyond just the numbers, and instead think about whether the bank they’re intending to do business with aligns with their own values.”

Image caption: Unity Trust Bank recently lent £3.5m to Sandwell Community Caring Trust, a charity that provides housing and care services for disabled and elderly people in the West Midlands. The loan enabled it to purchase Hall Green residential care home in West Bromwich, which it will use to deliver a high-quality, 62-bed specialist home for people with dementia.

Further reading:

Unity Trust becomes first Living Wage accredited bank

Social bank Unity Trust to reward staff with ownership shares

Small is beautiful: why alternative banks need to step up to the mark

Has your bank been naughty or nice in 2013?

The Guide to Sustainable Banking 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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