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“Archers farm” launches £700,000 community share offer to preserve biodynamic land for future generations

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Unique community-owned farm and ethical business park offers opportunity to earn 5% return. A £700,000 community share offer launched today offers people the chance to buy a stake in the farm which inspired BBC Radio 4’s The Archers, preserve its biodynamic farmland for future generations and earn 5% interest.

Rush Farm, near Redditch, Worcestershire, a showcase biodynamic farm, is raising funds to add the remaining 35 acres of the farm’s land in private ownership to its 150 acres, and to install solar panels and ground source heat pumps at its business park.

Rush Farm is run to the highest certified Demeter biodynamic and Soil Association organic standards. Stockwood Business Park is home to companies employing over 200 people, generating £200,000 a year in rents, and is run on sustainable and ethical principles.

The combination makes it the UK’s only community-owned farm paying shareholders a financial return. The renewables will generate extra income, as well as cut the business tenants’ utility bills, and make their units more comfortable.

Sebastian Parsons, who used to own Rush Farm with his sisters and is now Chief Executive of Stockwood Community Benefit Society (CBS), said: “We transferred the farm we love into community ownership to preserve it as a showcase of biodynamic farming forever. Our investors are joint owners and we welcome the chance to show them the impact their money is making when we open our doors for lambing days, summer fetes and other events.”

Stockwood CBS is offering shares paying 5% annual interest, financed by rents from the business park. The minimum investment is £100 and shares are available through the positive investment platform Ethex until November 30th.

Current and new investors who buy at least £5000 of shares will have the opportunity to make a further investment of £5000 or more in loan stock qualifying for Social Investment Tax Relief. This will pay 3% interest and offer an upfront 30% income tax relief, a combined 9.9% return (IRR) over six years.

Stockwood CBS, a registered charity, acquired the farm and its business park in June 2014 after raising more than £700,000 in shares and loans from 146 investors. Investors received their first 5% payments in April 2015 and the farm has outperformed its financial targets.

Its sustainable and ethical model enjoys strong support from investors, who hold equal voting rights. One in three decided to reinvest their dividends, and 3% donated them back to the charity. Many are local: 12% live within 10 miles, and a further 24% live in the region.

Lesley White, 41, a Director of LSD Accountants, a business park tenant who helps out at lambing time, said she jumped at the chance to invest. “I became an investor because I love Rush Farm, and for me it is all to do with the land and the sheep. I now feel that I am part of the farm and that I own a small piece of it,” she said.

Peter Pettifor, 50, a residential property landlord, said: “I have often felt I wanted to have a farm but could not afford one, so being a member and a co-owner of Stockwood Community Benefit Society gives me a sense of ownership and belonging. I feel that it is important to invest in land and protect the land, and the 5% is attractive as a return.”

Lisa Ashford, CEO of Ethex, said: “Stockwood’s first share offer was met with great enthusiasm from our investors because it combined strong social benefits with a fair financial return. I’m confident that this offer combining renewable energy generation and sustainable land use will prove to be equally attractive.”

Rush Farm is well-known in farming circles. Godfrey Basely, creator of The Archers, was a friend of the owners and early episodes were written and recorded there in the 1950s. Olympic showjumper Pat Smythe rode across its fields.

Since Stockwood launched its first community share offer more than 3,400 people have visited the farm on public open days, to see its Lleyn sheep and native Hereford cattle, walk in its 22 acres of ancient woodland, and learn about biodynamic and organic farming which has been practiced on the site since 2005.

The farm produces 30 acres of cereals, pasture for livestock and organic vegetables on heavy clay soils which have been revitalised with herb-based preparations, special manures and compost to stimulate microbiological soil life. Its animals are kept to the highest welfare standards, and treated with homeopathy. Wildlife flourishes and a local beekeeper and hedgehog rescue centre operate on the farm.

The 27-units in the old stable block are home to 21 businesses including a company which “up-cycles” old cars, a hand-made chocolate company and liv.co.uk, a co-worker owned company founded by Mr Parsons that is an online ethical department store and natural skincare business. Together the businesses provide work for over 100 local people and employ another 100 around the country, generating £12 million a year in revenue.

Shares are available via ethex.org.uk. Ethex has joined with Resonance for this offer. Resonance helps social enterprises structure and raise investment from values-led investors and is acting as Stockwood’s corporate finance advisors and deal arrangers. www.resonance.ltd.uk. The minimum investment in £1 Stockwood CBS shares is £100 and the maximum is £100,000. Shares can be withdrawn in accordance with the Society’s rules but not sold or exchanged and their value will not increase. The Society expects to pay 5% interest on shares but this is not guaranteed. Many regard their investment as primarily social and secondarily financial.

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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