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F&C updates investment policy to allow unethical sectors

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Tar sands, fur and animal testing are not sectors traditionally found in an ethical investor’s portfolio, but changes to F&C Asset Management’s policies mean that its Stewardship range allows investment in firms from all three.

The range has developed an impressive track record of being home to ethically-screened investments for the last 25 years.

F&C’s recent review of its celebrated Stewardship Funds policy is one which might grind the gears of ethical advisors. Scratch beneath the surface of investment criteria, and you may find the group to be backtracking its original principles.

The committee of reference is, at present, carrying out changes to the investment criteria in order to “strengthen” an appropriate policy in food, fur, zoos or theme parks, and the use of animals in research and testing.

In the Policy Proposal for Stewardship Investment Criteria Regarding Animal Welfare, the committee explains that the updates in criteria have been imposed to “reflect changes in customer concern and company good practice”.

Amid a growing demand for socially responsible investment, the company has been criticised for its lack of communication in the case of policy changes. It is thought that F&C held stocks in Burberry for over a year before the fashion company appeared on its top ten holdings. F&C hasn’t yet produced a full list of holdings.

“As the original vanguard fund in the ‘ethical sphere’, F&C needs to read carefully in its approach to Stewardship”, said Julian Parrott, an independent financial adviser at Ethical Futures.

I’m not sure that with the changes in management [from Friends Provident to ISIS to F&C] that have occurred over the past 12 years or so that a full understanding of the original value set has travelled with it.

“Stewardship was a deep green fund and F&C’s original investors often aspire to very strong and exclusionary policies. The potential issues relating to extractives are probably of more concern than the animal welfare issues.

“This, it has to be said, does represent something of a trend in the market with funds moving to styles such as socially responsible or thematic, with the emphasis being on positive reasons to invest and good governance – rather than the strict exclusionary criteria of the original ethical fund.

“This is a disappointing development as it potentially limits choice for clients with strongly help convictions.”

It appears that surreptitiously ethical investment is under attack. Leaders in the industry should not stray from targets of responsibility if they are to avoid a funding the so called ‘sextet of sin’.

F&C’s policy changes may not mean that the company will invest in the controversial sectors, but the evaluation of the £1.2 billion Stewardship Range is met with much scepticism.

Ethical Futures relay a timeless message that cannot be over-stressed: “Make your money change the world”. We cannot forget our growing responsibility to source our money from sustainable places.

F&C claims that animal welfare remains solidly on the Stewardship agenda. It states that it does not invest in battery chickens, and excludes fur if the company’s involvement is “negligible”. The organisation aims to avoid companies involved in such sectors as tobacco, alcohol, gambling and pornography.

With the initial guidelines for the committee’s negative screening process dwindling slowly, subject to rules of exception, we begin to question F&C’s commitment to its own original innovative policies laid down in 1984.

Tar sands looks to be the next pending re-evaluation, with F&C setting a 3% benchmark for investment in oil companies with assets in the extraction process. Tar sands, or oil sands as they’re sometimes known, are a major source of unconventional oil which, along with the dangers of extraction, are paving the way for climate change to be most destructive.

We urge you to read our Guide to Sustainable Investment to be inspired about the prospect of your money making a real difference.

Further reading:

What is ethical investment?

What is socially responsible investment (SRI)?

Ensuring you money doesn’t do harm: The ethical investment option

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/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

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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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

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.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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