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Why I switched to ethical banking

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On June 21, Natwest sent me a great bank statement. My personal favourite, I think. No, I haven’t just come into oceans of money. What gave me such pleasure were the two words sitting in place of a balance: ACCOUNT CLOSED.

It was all the sweeter for arriving on the same day that Natwest was making the national news for having ‘technical issues’ with hundreds of thousands of personal bank accounts. This was something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. They might have sent me the letter, but the statement? That’s all mine.

I have to confess, although I decided months ago to sever all ties with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which owns Natwest, it took a while to cold shoulder the idea of an overdraft. Times have been tricky lately (I’m 23 and I live with my parents: I’m sure I need not elaborate) and being able to dip into the minus now and then seemed like a safety net. I should have realised earlier that when I fell off the credit tightrope and into the red, actually there is no safety, only a pit populated by the bears of debt culture, the toothed status quo encouraged and propagated by almost all of our major banks (yes, probably yours too).

I am aware it is possible to change accounts with an overdraft, and I understand that for many they are necessary, as mine was during my undergraduate degree, but for me this change marks an emphatic full stop, and an end to that way of managing my money. So what is generally a very simple transition, for me was quite hard, and occasionally felt selfish – I haven’t contributed to anyone’s marathon running or got a round in at the pub for a very long time. Still, it needed to be done, and there are several good reasons why I made it my priority.

Forgive me if this is old news to you, but it was quite embarrassingly recently that I discovered my payments weren’t just sitting around in the bank, waiting for me to spend them on books and food and unwise amounts of glitter-based make up. No, my money was being spent – sorry, invested – even more unwisely, into the projects of companies committing terrible, destructive acts against humans and the world we live in: conduct which any sane person wouldn’t dream of involving themselves with if they could see its direct effects.

There is a raft of reasons as to why you might take issue with many UK banks, relating to the on-going financial crisis, bonuses, tax avoidance, and so on, but my particular bugbears are ethical: concerns about human rights abuses and the environment. RBS has a particularly questionable record on both of these, the latter often influencing the former.

There are big profits to be made in fossil fuels, and RBS was pouring billions into oil and gas even after it was bailed out. Projects like the tar sands extractions happening in Canada and Africa are heavily pollutant, incredibly inefficient and directly responsible for the devastation of local communities through the poisoning of rivers with carcinogens. Inevitably these communities have few rights and little power to resist.

RBS is also the main banker for several of the major players in the arms trade, has invested millions in companies which make cluster bombs (contravening the Convention on Cluster Munitions which prohibits assisting in development) and even sent delegates to a conference last year promoting sales of arms in the Middle East.

Next month sees the start of the final negotiations at the UN for the introduction of a global Arms Trade Treaty, the culmination of six years’ development and campaigning, and it is more than likely that the marriage of arms and big business could prove an insoluble union in opposition to a historic opportunity to do great good. What kind of system is it where profit annuls our ethics?

I feel deeply disgusted at the idea of companies knowingly profiting from conflict, and as soon as I understood the connection between my money and the consequences of their actions, I knew I had to make every effort to cut the ties and to find a better option. Doing nothing was not a kind of neutrality; it was basically a thumbs up from me, permitting them to carry on.

But there are better options – many – and it’s easy to make the switch. For now I have moved to Nationwide, but I will soon be settling down in London, where I hope to move to a credit union. There are lots of websites out there which want to help individuals make informed choices, and we have the privilege to be able to access them in seconds, a much shorter time than it has taken you to read this far.

I have marched and chanted and written letters in the past, and will do so until either there’s nothing left to protest, or I die (whichever comes first), but despite this, I feel that it’s what I do with my money that makes the strongest statement.

Think of the students who boycotted Barclays in the ’80s due to its involvement with apartheid in South Africa, whose actions were a major factor in the bank’s withdrawal from the country. Simply: if they don’t have the money, they can’t use it.

It feels odd that something so small, so uneventful, can be so powerful, but if we all do it, we could effect real change. And that’s what it comes down to, really.

Emma Fay lives in West Sussex, and is currently between being an English student and an English teacher. She can be found on Twitter: @egtfay.

Further reading:

Sustainable banks outperforming mainstream counterparts

Banking on ethics

RBS under fire for fossil fuel lending

Another greenwash revelation sees RBS pull its Climate Week sponsorship

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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