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End of Year Sustainable Investment Story

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The Stockwood community farm has secured Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) accreditation for its £700,000 community share offer which closes on March 31. Investors have till the end of this month to buy loan stock in the farm which inspired BBC Radio 4’s The Archers, preserve its biodynamic organic farmland for future generations, install renewable heat scheme and help build rural community. The SITR accreditation gives investors 30% upfront income tax relief – giving a combined 9.9% return over six years. The offer is open till the end of the month so a great way to squirrel away money before the end of the financial year.

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 over £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 fairs and other events.”

Stockwood CBS is offering shares paying 3% annual interest financed by rents from the business park plus a 30% upfront tax relief through SITR. The minimum investment is £2,000 and shares are available through the positive investment platform Ethex until March

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 is due to pay the second 5% in April this year.

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.”

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.

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2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environmentally Sustainable Furniture for Dummies

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eco-friendly sustainable furniture choices
Shutterstock / By Rawpixel.com | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/rawpixel

We probably don’t think a great deal about our furniture choices. I know that I tend to just buy whatever looks pretty, seems functional and fits my budget. That usually means a trip to a few showrooms and big warehouse stores, like Ikea.

But we have a responsibility to the planet. We can do better. There are three major ways that our furniture can help the environment:

  1. Purchase used and/or recycled furniture and extends the lifecycle of precious materials.
  2. Source furniture that is free of environmentally unsustainable products.
  3. Choose furniture that doesn’t require electricity – opting for manual transitioning.

By investing in environmentally sustainable, high-qualify furniture, you’ll be able to pass down items from generation to generation. This will save your heirs on the cost of furnishing their own home, and help to protect the environment from wasteful fad furniture that only lasts a season or two.

Natural and Recycled Furniture Materials

If you absolutely love the look of wood furniture, search for environmentally sustainable products. For example, locally sourced wood or bamboo can easily be replenished without requiring excessive international harvesting of precious woods that harm the environment.

Sustainable wood products are only sourced from companies and locations that have the ability to quickly replace harvested wood – providing a responsible resource for generations of manufacturers and consumers.

Recycled furniture can either be a gently used item from someone else’s home, or a new piece of furniture that’s been used from reclaimed sources. You’ve probably seen examples of this at your local park – cities are increasingly using recycled materials to create benches and picnic tables.

But recycled materials don’t have to feel rough or rustic. Items made from recycled wood are readily available for order online or in-store. And believe it or not, electronic waste can be reclaimed and crafted into beautiful pieces of modern furniture.

The only limitation on recycled furniture design is the imagination of the creator. If you want to do it yourself, check out this DIY recycled furniture pinterest board!

Avoid Harsh Chemicals that Harm the Environment

Did you know that many cushions are made of highly-flammable polyurethane? Furniture manufacturers help keep our butts out of the hot seat by treating the materials in cushions with fire-retardant toxins. Unfortunately this padding breaks down overtime and the dust is both toxic to humans and the environment.

There are multiple lines of eco-friendly furniture that avoid the use of flammable polyurethane – often substituting with organic cotton. Just understand that you’re going to be in for a bit of sticker shock – eco-friendly furniture, when purchased new from major brands, gets pricey.

If you can’t afford the pricetag, I recommend finding used furniture from the same product line. There are a ton of websites dedicated to helping eco-friendly consumers find used organic, responsibly sourced products – and that includes furniture.

You’ll also want to stay away from faux leather. Furniture made from pleather and other leather substitutes are heavily treated with chemicals. That’s never a win.

Hypo-allergenic stuffing, combine with traditional leather might be a decent compromise if you have to have the leather look to tie a room together. But be conscious of the fact that tanning is not an environmentally friendly process, so try to limit these materials in your design.

In conclusion, it’s up to you how crazy you want to go. I think that as long as you stay with used furniture, you’re on the right track – even if it isn’t environmentally perfect, it’s at least a sunk cost for the environment – the damage has been done and you’re extending its useful life. But I think the most important takeaway here is buy quality items that you can pass down to your next generation – if that means spending more on higher quality new items that are sustainably sourced, so be it.

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