In the wake of the financial crisis, new research suggests that both the demand for and understanding of ethical investment has grown in the past 12 months.
The poll, conducted by Atomik on behalf of sustainable investment consultancy firm Emerald Knight, shows that nearly two-thirds of people (65%) would like to know more about what their bank or building society is doing with their finances. This comes after an overwhelming 86% claimed they were unaware of how their money is invested.
But, in results that will provide the industry with a welcome boost, nearly half of respondents (47%) said that they were likely to opt for ethical investments rather than conventional ones in the future.
However investor knowledge of the area is still lacking, with 59% of people apparently unaware of what an ethical investment is, though this figure is an improvement on the 2011 figure of 63%.
“Ethical investment, through positive results and changing attitudes, is breaking into the mainstream”, said Emerald Knight director James Howard.
“Since the global banking crisis, there’s been increasing concern over the stability of traditional investments, and there’s also much better awareness of how financial institutions use their customers’ money.
“Alongside this, awareness of environmental issues has increased, the world’s population has continued to grow at a rapid pace and people are becoming more concerned about human rights. As a result, the nation is becoming increasingly aware of the impact of its choices.”
Howard added that scandals and crises in the mainstream banking arena were often the driving force behind consumers opting for ethical financial options – a sentiment that a number of interviewees in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s recent Guide to Sustainable Banking echoed.
Indeed, Triodos Bank, which provides 40,000 ethical current accounts in the UK, revealed that it had witnessed a 51% surge in account applications when media scrutiny of the Libor scandal was at its peak in July, and that on the day that former Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond handed in his resignation, it had opened three times as many accounts compared to an average day.
“There’s […] evidence to suggest that recent misdemeanours in the banking sector, such as the Libor rate-rigging scandal, have led to more people than ever reviewing ethical options”, Howard said.
“But they’re by no means prepared to sacrifice good investment sense to buy into such products.
“No investor wants to settle for a serious compromise on returns, and they should never think that it’s a choice between ethics or growth.”
The Emerald Knight research suggests that not only have these scandals prompted many people to transform their finances onto a more ethical footing, it has led them to also significantly lose trust in high street banks, with 80% of respondents claiming this was the case.
But it’s not just the misdemeanours displayed within the mainstream banks that have driven people towards ethical investment; issues like climate change, human rights abuses and deforestation have been driven up the agenda so that now 76% of people claim to be concerned.
At the same time, over half (52%) think that there would have to be a sacrifice in performance if they were to go down the ethical investment route – something that has been proven to be untrue. However, nearly two-thirds of people (61%) think they’d be able to achieve financial and moral returns in tandem by investing ethically.
The Emerald Knight study suggests a bright future for investment that is more ethical, sustainable, responsible and positively impactful than conventional or mainstream finance. Stay tuned for a full rundown of all the results in the form of a Blue & Green Tomorrow infographic next week.
Blue & Green Tomorrow has interviewed a number of specialist ethical financial advisers in the past, and they’re located all across the country. Have a look here to find the one nearest to you.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
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.
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.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
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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