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Exclusive Interview, Joel Benjamin, Community Reinvest

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Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin has ten years professional experience in town and transport planning, public policy and environmental consultancy roles. This includes two years research and advocacy experience with Move Your Money UK – studying public sector, local authority and alternative finance.

Joel has experience in public policy, local planning and consultancy, coupled with recent financial campaigning, networking and research skills obtained through developing Local Authority guide on Banking for Social Good. The guide will streamline expansion of local authority finance work into divestment and re-investment options for municipalities to create alternatives that deliver economic and social value benefits for residents whilst expediting a transition to a jobs rich, low-carbon, local economy

What is Community Reinvest?

We are a not-for-profit Community Interest Company set up to link divestment and reinvestment and believe through this action it is possible to create flourishing low carbon, local economies. We exist to help public institutions demonstrate civic leadership by divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting funds in the local economy, in a manner that has social, economic and environmental benefits.

What was the driver behind this?

In late 2014 when Co-Founder Jo Ram and I set up Community Reinvest – there was a lot of energy around the US & UK college fossil fuel divestment movement, but not a lot of joined-up thinking to link divestment with pathways for socially and environmentally just investment in the new economy for institutions and pension funds.

Its incredible to think that despite pension funds being members money, individual investors have next to no say in how their pension is actually invested.

Community Reinvest identified local authorities as a key player in the drive to the low carbon economy, because they are democratically accountable bodies, are in control of our local economies and account for £1 in every £4 of taxpayer funds spent.

We wanted to ensure the link between divestment from fossil fuels and investment in the renewables based low-carbon economy was made explicit and that such investments were both aligned with members and communities needs, and were environmentally sustainable.

Who does it primarily serve?

We’re here to help the divestment movement, local authority pension funds and community/ renewable energy groups work together and to signpost alternative, renewable investments and low carbon funds.

What difference does Community Reinvest want to make?

We need to radically decarbonise our economy, but we also need to democratise our entire energy system.

By divesting money from carbon intensive, centrally controlled corporate oil monopolies, and supporting a shift to democratised, locally owned and controlled renewable energy, we hope to distribute and anchor wealth within communities, creating jobs and local manufacturing opportunities while de-risking workers pension funds and improving the environment.

What are the barriers to making that difference?

The barriers are enormous. The first is transparency. Working with Friends of the Earth, Platform and 350, it took us 100 FOI requests and a year of data crunching just to work out how much local authority pension fund money was invested in fossil fuels – £14 billion. Around £3000 in coal, oil & gas for each LGPS fund member or £281 for each UK citizen.

Fossil fuels have been viewed as a safe bet for investors for more than a century, but recently a growing chorus of voices from Mark Carney to Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben are urging pension funds to review carbon investment risk and to pursue divestment. Culturally however, the pace of divestment and actual change within institutions has been slow.

UK Government policy has attacked renewables, singling out local authority pension funds to threaten  them on engaging in boycotts, divestment and sanctions, whilst trying to strong arm the funds into white elephant PFI infrastructure projects like HS2 which Government refuses to fund itself.

Currently the 89 LGPS funds in England and Wales are being forced by Government to pool themselves into 6-8 large funds to reduce the impact of rip-off City fund managers fees on workers nest-eggs. This will make pensions further removed from fund members, and harder to engage with.

Who’s helping you overcome those barriers?

On the divestment campaigning side, 350, Platform and Friends of the Earth are doing an admirable job of building and supporting local groups to push the divestment message and to work with the trade union movement on the transition to low carbon energy.

Organisations like Share Action and Carbon Tracker are engaging with the fund manager sector to ram home the message of fiduciary duty and the need to act in members interests and manage carbon investment risk. The trade union movement is making the case for a low-carbon jobs transition and pressuring Government to ensure workers pensions are invested in the long-term interests of members and do not become a political football for the Westminster elite.

Are investors and companies doing enough to divest and reinvest their assets?

In the language of the City, public pension funds are labelled “the dumb money” while private equity, hedge funds and banks are labelled “the smart money.”

With carbon risk, it’s the complete reversal. Government’s, citizens and insurance firms like Aviva are in the lead – demanding the City and financial markets take action to decarbonise, while major financial institutions and the oil majors drag heels, because their cash flow and debt generation business is inherently linked to fossil fuel extraction and the continuation of the petro-dollar.

With fossil fuels, pension fund managers and advisors are blocking oil soaked investments from heading where they needs to head – the exit sign and quickly.

How can people – individuals and organisations – find out more about Community Reinvest?

People can visit our website at www.communityreinvest.org.uk follow us on twitter @Comm_Reinvest and take a read of our recent report “Reinvesting Pensions – From Fossil Fuel Divestment to Reinvestment in the New Economy”

Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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Energy

Top 5 Changes You can Make in Your Life to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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reduce carbon footprint
Saving money and reducing your carbon footprint? What isn’t to love? - Image from Shutterstock - https://www.shutterstock.com/g/thodonal88

In a world, where war rages and global warming threatens our very existence, the inhabitants of earth need to be extra vigilant in their efforts to go green. This includes reducing your carbon footprint on the earth and leading a more sustainable life.

Many homeowners feel perplexed by all of the options available to reduce their carbon footprint. They may even feel (falsely) that making their household more green will fail to make that much of a difference in the fight to save our planet.

Even a single home going green has a massive impact on the environment. We can win this battle on home at a time. If you’re interested in accepting the challenge of making your household a green home, read on below for a few of the top changes you can make in your life to reduce your carbon footprint. We all stand to benefit from making the earth safer for future generations – and your wallet won’t complain when you start to see the savings in annual energy costs.

Switch From Dirty Energy to Clean Solar

The ION Solar reviews tell it all–solar is the best way to go. Whether your goal is to slash your energy bills, or to reduce your carbon footprint, the sun is a fantastic source of renewable energy.

It’s important to get past the hype from solar installers. Instead, listen to the plethora of impartial customer reviews that mention everything from a $20 energy bill, to the incredible feeling of knowing that you are doing your part by going green and minimizing harmful emissions in to our atmosphere.

The average investment is $15,000 to $30,000 for installation and purchase of solar panels. Optional battery power packs can help provide consistent power during both night and day. And many government agencies provide federal, state or local grants to help offset upfront investments in clean energy.

Depending on which installed you choose, your household may qualify for low-interest or zero interest loans to cover the up-front cost of your installation. And the loan payments are usually less than your current monthly power bill.

It really is a win-win, as home buyers are looking for homes that feature this technology – meaning solar power installation improves the resale value of your property.

Home Modifications

And there are a number of additional home modifications that can help improve the energy efficiency of your home. A programmable thermostat can better manage energy consumption from home cooling and heating systems while you’re away from home. And weather stripping your doors can help keep cool air in during the summer, and warm air in during the winter.

Of course, energy conservation starts at home. And this includes setting a powerful example for your kids. Teach your children how to close windows, strategically keep doors open or closed based on airflow, and encourage them to leave the thermostat alone – opting for adding or removing layers of clothing instead.

Unplug Appliances and Shut Off Electronics

Unplugging your appliances when they aren’t in use, such as the toaster and the coffee maker, has more of an impact than you might think. Set your TVs and stereos on sleep timers, instead of letting them run around the clock. The cumulative impact of wasteful electronic device usage is horrible for our environment – putting unnecessary strain on our electrical grid.

Recycle

One of the simplest and easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is by recycling. You are already throwing this stuff away anyway, right? It doesn’t take much more effort to just put recyclables in a separate container to be recycled, now does it?

Oh, and did I mention that you can earn money for recycling? Yes! Many cities and towns have recycling centers that will purchase your clean plastic and glass bottles for reuse.

Minimize Your Water Usage

Water is one of the easiest things to forget about when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint. Preserve water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Shorten your shower by a few minutes and turn down the heat on that water heater. You’ll be surprised at how much lower your water bill and your energy bill will be.

Saving money and reducing your carbon footprint? What isn’t to love?

These are just a few of the top ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint and start living a greener lifestyle. And we aren’t factoring in all of the advantages that we’ll reap from public investments in a smarter energy grid.

From decreasing your water usage, to switching to solar for your home’s energy needs, you will feel good at the end of the day knowing you are doing your part to save the future of this planet for generations to come!

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