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Fair finance, the new fair trade?



People that save with ethical banks are challenging the practices of the banking industry just as fair trade visionaries flagged up injustices within global trade, states Patrick Crawford, CEO of Charity Bank. Except this time, it’s about personal finance not chocolate bars.

Increasingly, people are looking for beacons of light in the opaque world of a banking industry that has been tainted by scandal.

It all started in the 60s

The fair trade movement started with the ‘solidarity traders’, groups who took inspiration from the Anti-Apartheid Movement’s boycott of South African goods, and the charity activists of the 60’s who sold fair trade coffee to committed supporters.

Since then fair trade has grown into a globally recognised label that makes it possible for people to put a chocolate bar in their shopping basket knowing ­­that the farmer who grew the cocoa beans has been treated fairly.

Fair trade has come to stand for a ‘consumer’ reaching out across the globe to the ‘producer’ to work towards a fairer system of trade. Chief executive of Fairtrade International Harriet Lamb describes it as a “quiet revolution in our shopping baskets”, a way of putting justice into unfair trade “step by step, product by product.”

Finding alternatives to unethical banking

It’s a sign of our times that people are beginning to look at personal finance and savings in the same way. Just as people realised that what they paid for a chocolate bar could be funding abuses of farmers, now more and more people are discovering that the money they save with a bank might be used to fund activities they wouldn’t dream of endorsing, from producing fossil fuels to funding the arms trade.

Like fair trade, the roots of the movement can be traced back to the charity sector where alternative views of the world thrive. Charities and social enterprises were some of the first to begin saving with ethical banks. They looked for banks that shared their values and their ethical standards.

Now just as parents can buy fair trade chocolate for their children, they can set up ethical bank accounts for them.  Parents, grandparents, couples and individuals are starting to move their money, so that they can have more control over where it goes and what it does.  In 2014 there was £862 million saved with ethical banks, Charity Bank, Triodos UK and the Ecology Building Society, up from £684 million in 2013.

It’s not about dreamy visions

Like fair trade, fair finance is not about dreamy visions. It’s about alternatives to a banking system run for profit that struggles to make finance work for people that are poor or disadvantaged.

Ethical savers might not get the highest rates on the market, but they can still earn a fair return, see their money do good and demand that banks take their obligation to society and the environment seriously.

Fair finance: the ethical banks

Charity Bank: offers savings accounts and makes loans to charities and social enterprises using the money that savers entrust to it.

Ecology Building society: offers savings accounts and sustainable mortgages for properties and projects that respect the environment, funded through a range of simple, transparent savings accounts.

Triodos Bank: offers savings and finances organic food and farming businesses, renewable energy enterprises, recycling companies and nature conservation projects.

Patrick Crawford is the Chief Executive of Charity Bank, he joined as Chief Executive in November 2012 and was appointed Board Executive Director in January 2014.

This article is part of our crowdfunder reward for Charity Bank’s generous support in 2014.

Photo: Charity Bank

Further reading:

Charity Bank: social sector gaining confidence to borrow

Charity Bank first European bank to achieve B Corporation certification

Charity Bank drops charity status and sets sight on sustainable growth

The Guide to Sustainable Banking 2013


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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