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Why we chose ethical investment: making money do active good



Will and Sally Sutcliffe are ethical investors. Their investment journey began in the late ‘90s when they inherited a “sizeable sum” of money that they realised was invested in areas that didn’t match their ethical values.

They now use the interest they receive as an alternative to paid work, allowing them to become actively involved in volunteering – Will full-time in projects that support asylum seekers, and Sally, in English language classes and church groups.

They have one daughter and a dog, and receive specialist ethical financial advice from Manchester-based Gaeia. Speaking with Blue & Green Tomorrow, they look back at their investment choices and their reasons for choosing a more enlightened path.

Why did you consider ethical investment?

Will: We’re on a journey, as many people are. We’re both committed Christians, and we’ve both had social consciences for most of our lives.  We realised that with one hand, we’ve been supporting organisations that do relief and development work in the developing world, but with the other hand, by the unethical investments we’d inherited, we were potentially undoing that and probably doing considerably more harm.

How did you come to investing in ethical funds?

W: When my parents died, we inherited a sizeable sum which had been invested in all sorts of things – some of which we were not comfortable with – and consequently we set out on a bit of a journey of reinvesting what we’d inherited.

Sally: I think when we went into it – around 16 years ago – we assumed that green or ethical investments would be much more radical than they actually turned out to be.

Would you explicitly refuse to invest in any sectors or areas?

W: When we first set out on this journey, we completed questionnaires and ticked loads of boxes. There seemed to be loads more ticks in areas that we don’t like than those that we do. One of the problems we’ve had is that we’ve been keen to try and make sure, at the risk of sounding too idealistic, that our money is doing active good rather than just avoiding harm. So one of the key things that we’ve been concerned about is workers’ rights and to make sure that companies that our money is invested in, as far as possible, are not abusing their workers. We are very concerned about environmental issues. Like many people, we avoid investments in armaments, alcohol, tobacco and oil.

One of our challenges has been to find investments which genuinely are ethical. A lot of funds might be billed as green or ethical, but when you dig into them and look at their top ten holdings, you find that it’s full of supermarkets, phone companies and things that we wouldn’t consider as ethical. The thing is, they don’t invest in armaments, oil and animal rights, so strictly they meet our criteria but it was a bit of an eye-opener to us to realise that what we’re actually investing in was all sorts of things which weren’t really where our sympathies were at all.

S: We wanted to invest in companies and funds whose very reason for being is ethical; not, for example, a company that makes rubber bands but happens to be very ethical in the way it behaves. We wanted investments that make a positive difference, whose raison d’être, whose very creation is to do with social conscience and the developing world.

W: Or energy conservation and environmental issues.

S: It’s so difficult to find those funds.

W: We are aware of sounding a bit naïve at times, but I’d sooner be naïve and keep trying to strive to achieve our principles than just give up and accept whatever we’re offered .

Was this a belief or a strategy that you had had all your life or was there a specific turning point for you both when you realised what your money was invested in?

S: I think as young adults, we tried to make everything make sense in the whole of our lives. As Will said, one hand was doing this, but the other hand might have been doing the opposite which undoes all the good work. Finance is just one part of the whole of our lives I suppose. I think it’s been running through all of our adult life but the point at which we had to actually decide and take action was when Will inherited the money from his parents.

W: The important fact is that we didn’t have significant resources to invest beforehand, so it wasn’t such an issue really. Our focus financially before was in giving to support good work, rather than to actually invest in it.

S: That point about giving I suppose is still relevant in the sense that for a lot of people, financial investment is to do with maintaining or amassing wealth, or at least helping it to grow. The assumption of most financial advisers and investment brokers is that anybody who has any money wants to keep hold of it and make it grow, whereas that’s not our starting point, which makes us a little bit odd.

Many financial advisers and investors cite their religion as one of the key drivers for moving into the ethical investment space. Is there a sense that investing in conventional funds would be seen as contradictory to your religion?

W: For us, our faith is not something that is simply attached on top of everything else that goes in our life; it goes right to the core. And I think as you go through life, different challenges appear at different times as you’re on your journey, and things that seemed fine a few years ago, you realise actually they might have been inconsistent. I think what we want to be, to use a biblical term, ‘good stewards’ of what we’ve got, and recognise that it’s not ours, really. We didn’t earn it; it simply came to us. It’s something that we’ve been given stewardship of I guess and we feel very privileged but also feel that with privilege comes responsibility, and it’s a constant challenge really to try and find ways of making sure the money is, wherever possible, doing active good; whatever that might mean.

There are a number of misconceptions flying around that say there is a performance sacrifice to be made when investing ethically. How have you found it?

S: We were aware of the myths, but amassing wealth and accumulation are not our main criteria. It didn’t bother us that much, but we just kept an eye on it and were interested to see over the years how they would perform. Most of our investments – possibly because we’ve chosen slightly higher risk funds or smaller enterprises – haven’t quite matched the conventional performance.

What would you say to B&GT readers to encourage them to invest ethically?

W: We need to recognise the impact that our money has. We all do day-to-day jobs, and some of us are doing jobs that we believe are doing good for society. But what is the point of having a day job that does some good for the world and with your money, you’re undoing nearly all the good that you’re doing? We need to be consistent and integrated as people and recognise that our investments have a huge power, both positively and negatively, to impact the world.

Blue & Green Tomorrow has interviewed a number of specialist ethical financial advisers in the past, and they’re located all across the country. Have a look here to find the one nearest to you.

Further reading:

Poll maps growth of ethical investment understanding and demand

What kind of investor are you?

Drop in ethical fund sales part of a ‘general decline’

Sustainable investment flourishes amongst European high net-worth individuals

The growing appetite for green and ethical investment

The Guide to Sustainable Investment (NEIW edition)


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



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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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




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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