On Tuesday night, BBC Panorama is set to accuse Comic Relief of investing in the tobacco, alcohol and arms industries. Hiding behind the laws of fiduciary duty, the charity maintains it has nothing to hide. But investing to contradict its mission is plain wrong.
If the defence is that if something is legal, it represents a valid investment opportunity, then if slavery was legal, would Comic Relief invest in it? The answer should, of course, be a resounding no. The practice was abolished nearly 200 years ago in the UK, and although it still happens in certain areas of the world, it is completely deplorable in any civil society.
Whether Comic Relief would invest in slavery raises some interesting issues. The charity, among the most popular in the UK, will tonight be accused by BBC Panorama of investing in tobacco, alcohol and armaments – specifically and most notably £630,000 in arms manufacturer BAE Systems.
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) points out that in 2010, BAE was fined £30m for selling an outdated military air traffic control system to Tanzania – a poverty-stricken country in which Comic Relief works to alleviate poverty.
These industries are odd bedfellows for any mission-driven organisation. But for a charity like Comic Relief, whose prime remit is to alleviate poverty and suffering at home and abroad, they surely contradict entirely. You don’t have to be an enlightened investor to see that investing in the very same tobacco firms whose products are causing premature death and widespread disease in places with little access to public health is wrong.
Despite this, Comic Relief’s response has been inadequate and certainly incommensurate to the justifiable criticism. It said last week, when the BBC revealed Panorama would be airing the investigation, that it had “nothing to hide”. It added that everything it was doing with its money was entirely legal – but this isn’t good enough. “It’s legal” is, as one tweeter pointed out, the worst possible answer in this situation.
“It’s legal” is not a defence – though it does raise necessary questions over the make-up of the current laws. That said, Charity Commission guidance, published in 2011, is fairly revealing: “The law permits the following reasons [for investing ethically, even if lower returns are anticipated]: a particular investment conflicts with the aims of the charity; or the charity might lose supporters or beneficiaries if it does not invest ethically; or there is no significant financial detriment.”
Simon Howard, chief executive of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), debunked a whole host of myths relating to the supposed underperformance of ethical funds last week. In response, Comic Relief said, “If we had invested £50m across the FTSE4Good indices, as opposed to the equivalent FTSE indices, we would have lost around £10m over the last 10 years.”
But instead of anything goes, what it should be saying is that it would be conducting a thorough internal investigation into its investment policies to ensure its money was not only avoiding the unethical industries, but not contradicting its core function as a charity.
Ethics are personal and certainly not black and white. If, for example, Comic Relief decided to invest in nuclear power, it would likely raise another interesting debate. There are benefits of nuclear as an energy source – it’s low-carbon and provides reliable power – as well as the well-known negative aspects such as proliferation. But can similar arguments be made for tobacco firms, the arms trade and alcohol manufacturers? “The returns are quite good” is not a legitimate riposte.
The problem with the Comic Relief situation is that it doesn’t control what its money is doing. It isn’t the first mission-driven organisation to have been caught out because of this. Whereas the likes of the Church of England invest partially in pooled funds – which allow investors to invest alongside others – Comic Relief puts its money into blue chip managed funds. These are large funds that deliver reliable returns, and which, in theory, would include companies like Wonga – which the church was found to be investing indirectly in back in July.
Jane Tully, head of policy and public affairs at the Charity Finance Group, said that charities should look to avoid investing against their stated missions “as a minimum”. She admitted, however, that it was often difficult in practice – particularly for large investors like Comic Relief.
She added, “Generally as good practice, all charities should have an investment policy that sets out the parameters of their investment activities, including at a high level what their trustees have agreed they can or can’t invest in.
“They should also consider the fact that the public expect them to be good and responsible investors. Investing in a way that conflicts with what they do, or damages reputation may harm their mission and have long-term impacts on donors’ willingness to give – a loss of support that may ultimately undermine the financial return generated anyway.”
The reputational impact of the BBC Panorama investigation on Comic Relief is as yet unknown. But it’s unlikely to do it any good in the eyes of the British public who so generously pledge money to its worthwhile cause each year.
To go back to my original question, if slavery was legal, would Comic Relief invest in it? Probably not. But tobacco, alcohol and the arms trade are seemingly decent bets – and making its charity work ever harder with every extra penny.
Comic Relief’s work is invaluable to the poorest people in our own country and overseas. Due to its mission and its reliance on the generous support of millions, we should rightly hold it to a higher standard than other investors.
We will always applaud Comic Relief’s many good works. But we must deplore such bad investment decisions and look forward to it revising its policies.
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.
How Going Green Can Save A Company Money
What is going green?
Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.
The first step in going green
There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.
Making needed changes within the company
After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.
Reducing the common paper waste
Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.
Make money by spreading the word
Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.