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Financial returns from ethical investment funds ‘better than mainstream’ in last 12 months

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Ethical and sustainable investment funds have generally performed better financially than their mainstream counterparts in the last 12 months, according to new research.

Moneyfacts says that the average ethical fund delivered returns of 24% in the last year, compared with the 18% growth displayed by the average non-ethical fund. UK index trackers (23%) and the FTSE 100 (18%) were also found to be lagging behind.

Meanwhile, over a three-year timeframe, ethical funds grew on average 36% against a 31% growth in the conventional fund market. Moneyfacts adds that after five years, there is “very little difference” in performance.

The results will go some way to dispelling the often-cited myth about ethical and sustainable investment being synonymous with lower returns for investors.

Click here to read The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013

Richard Eagling, head of investments and pensions at Moneyfacts, said the sector had “clearly benefitted from [its] lack of exposure to unethical sectors such as mining, oil and gas and tobacco, which have been amongst some of the poorer performing areas of the market over the last 12 months.”

While many funds use negative exclusion as their primary investment strategy – screening out unethical sectors such as tobacco, alcohol and pornography – the momentum in the market is shifting towards positive selection and sustainability. Investing in industries and companies that actively seek to tackle and profit from key environmental and social challenges, such as renewable energy and clean technology, is a growing approach among fund managers and investors.

Raj Singh, programme director at the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) – which co-ordinates National Ethical Investment Week in October – said, “These figures not only demonstrate a consistently healthy appetite for green and ethical investment options, but provide further evidence that investors need not sacrifice good returns when following their values.

The survey underlines much of what UKSIF has been saying all along: ethical funds deliver both profits and principles and many funds are outperforming their non-ethical competitors.”

Despite the encouraging short-term performance, there are questions about how ethical and sustainable investment has fared financially over a longer period. The Moneyfacts research says that over a 10-year timeframe, ethical funds grew 56% – less than half the 128% growth of the mainstream sector.

However, it is suggested that this could be down to the fact that emerging markets – which have led much of the short-term growth – do not have funds with decade-long performance records available.

Mark Dampier, head of research at Hargreaves Lansdown, said, “The truth remains that over the shorter and indeed 10-year slot, mid and small-caps have been on fire. To get a genuine idea of good stock picking you need to work out an expected return. Anything over this would show added value, underneath subtracting.”

He added, “I have no problem if investors wish to invest on a particular basis. Years ago I had some who wouldn’t buy into Japan – they had been prisoners on the Burma railway. They fought a war so we could have the choice.”

One of the best performing ethical funds over a 10-year period, however, is the Ecclesiastical Amity International Fund, which grew 188% in that time. Its aim is to “invest in companies whose products and practices are helping to build a safer, cleaner, better world”, with some of its largest holdings in the likes of Ezion, GlaxoSmithKline and Vodafone.

Ecclesiastical’s chief investment officer Robin Hepworth said, “The long-term performance of the fund has been built on the Ecclesiastical Investment Management philosophy of contrarian and value investing. Bottom up fundamental analysis integrating financial and non-financials metrics, underpinned by a long-term investment horizon and low turnover, have led to the fund returning strong long-term performance.”

Another good performer over the long-term is the Kames Ethical Equity Fund, which has posted gains of 199% over 10 years. The fund’s manager Audrey Ryan said it had “gained from the underweight in resources and overweight in consumer services and industrials”.  Its lack of exposure to the banks and tobacco were also highlighted as a key driver behind its strong performance.

Further reading:

10 signs that sustainable investment is going mainstream

There is such a thing as an unethical investment

Responsible investment ‘outperforms mainstream’ in Australia

Best ethical investment funds named at Money Observer Fund Awards 2013

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013

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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