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Ecology Building Society AGM: sustainable finance makes ground



Last year proved a record-breaking year for Ecology Building Society. Once again, the organisation demonstrated why it was different at its annual general meeting (AGM) in London last weekend.

The event was engaging and used as a real opportunity by board members to explain their decisions and, more importantly, listen to what Ecology members had to say about its operations and the direction the society was taking. Even when difficult questions were raised, the board didn’t shy away from answering them.

Over the course of 2013, the building society’s assets increased by 13.7%, reaching £124.8m – a new record for Ecology but clearly modest when compared to mainstream lenders. Its mortgage lending also increased, with gross lending registering a record £18.4m. As a result, mortgage asset growth increased by 7.64%, against 6% in 2012. The society states that these figures show that its lending is both “effective in contributing to building a sustainable economy and creating a sustainable housing stock”.

Whilst net profit at the society fell by 12.4% to £402,000, it noted that higher liquidity levels were to blame. Ecology’s values and ambitions are clearly reflected in it members, with one man in the audience saying he didn’t want Ecology to “grow for growth’s sake”.

The difference between Ecology and mainstream financial institutions is perhaps most evident when looking at remuneration packages, particularly given recent headlines. Just last week a third of Barclay shareholders failed to back its remuneration package after bonuses increased amid falling profits.

In comparison, Ecology told its members that it has a salary ratio of 5:1, meaning its highest paid employee can not earn more than five times it lowest paid employee, and all employees receive the same benefits. Even among other building societies, Ecology’s remuneration is modest, with chief executive Paul Ellis receiving a smaller salary than others in the same position at other organisations.

One audience member raised concerns that this could lead to a lack of talent in the future and potentially make it difficult for the board to replace Ellis when needed. The board explained that it was currently addressing this issue by looking at those with potential already working in the business and explained that for the right candidate, who would match Ecology’s values, the benefits and positive impact working of at Ecology can bring would outweigh this.

Unsurprisingly, the remuneration policy, along with the society’s accounts, was passed by members without a hitch, as were the re-election of one board member and the election of three non-executive board members.

During the morning session, Ecology also revealed that it was in discussions with other small building societies about the possibility of working together to offer their customers a current account. Part of the reasoning behind this was to attract younger customers who often expect more products from providers, an issue facing many building societies.

The afternoon was dedicated to workshops, debates and encouraging members to learn more about the processes and values of Ecology. This kicked off with they keynote debate – entitled ‘Who has the power to build a sustainable future?’

Beth Stratford, a PhD researcher at Roehampton University, argued that it was the financial institutions that could create change, whilst Alistair Harper, who runs the Green Alliance’s political leadership team, backed the political community. Anna Dart, a resident of Balcombe during the anti-fracking protests, represented the general public and stated that anyone could help to build a more sustainable future.

Attendees were then split into three groups to attend different workshops. The first group looked at sustainable financial communities and discussed where the future of co-operative and mutual finance lay.

Speakers included Ed Mayo, secretary-general of Co-operatives UK, and Hilary McVitty, head of external affairs at the Building Societies Association. Members were asked to discuss where they thought mutuals should be heading, leading to questions about the size and products on offer. One of the recurring questions was why no building society had been formed since Ecology in 1981 and how this, and the consolidation of the market, affected the financial sector’s sustainability and diversity.

Participants were then given an opportunity to discuss on Ecology can continue to grow sustainably with the board members. The other two groups looked at sustainable built communities, with a focus on community-led housing, and Ecology’s lending policy.

Ecology’s AGM demonstrated that transparent and responsible institutions are operating in the financial world and that there is without doubt demand from the public for a provider that they can truly trust and engage with.

Photo: Natesh Ramasamy via Flickr

Further reading:

2013 sustainable bank of the year: Ecology Building Society

Ethical investment pioneer: Paul Ellis, Ecology Building Society

What’s gone wrong with finance?

It’s banking, but not as we know it! Ecology Building Society’s AGM

Community-owned shops given mortgage opportunity from Ecology


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By 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 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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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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.


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