Simon Howard has sat at the helm of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) for 18 months. Before that he gained over twenty years of investment management experience, in a City career that took him from Liverpool Victoria to 3i Asset Management, via Friends Provident.
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Growing increasingly concerned by investors’ failure to factor in the risks of climate change and other irresponsible practices, Howard joined the sustainable development charity Forum for the Future. Soon after, UKSIF’s top job beckoned.
With UKSIF’s flagship awareness raising event Good Money Week underway, Howard speaks to Blue & Green Tomorrow about the rebranding of National Ethical Investment Week, discusses the rise of sustainable investment, and explains why we should all share his concerns.
Blue & Green Tomorrow: So you’ve rebranded National Ethical Investment Week to Good Money Week – why?
Simon Howard: National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) was a great success, it began to get us mainstream media attention but we think there’s more that can be done if the branding is made a little bit more user-friendly. NEIW just sounds a bit clunky. Good Money Week is a rather simpler concept. We’ve got a cute new logo, that’s very sweet and welcoming.
The aim is to make the campaign broader and more inclusive, and whilst we have a great deal of time for and fervently support ethical investors – that phrase has puzzled some media commentators.
I think the idea of good money as opposed to bad money is a very inclusive concept, I think everybody can get that pretty easily, whereas words like ethical – I think some people won’t want to engage with. It’s more about clarification.
Ethics is still very much a part of Good Money Week, but I think by changing the branding, we can focus more on the positives rather than giving an easy hit to the sceptics. There’s a variety of positive new forces behind it.
B>: Are the message and the target audience changing with the name?
SH: In the two years I’ve been involved, the target audience has always been in my mind every citizen, everybody in the UK, and so in that sense it hasn’t changed. But I think the emphasis on reaching new people has increased.
I want UKSIF and Good Money Week to be inclusive. I want it to include every consumer and every financial services company. You don’t have to be a fund manager and you don’t have to be a large bank – service providers, financial advisors and pension funds are all welcome.
Good Money Week is for absolutely anybody. Anybody with a bank account, anybody who buys insurance, anybody who’s in a pension scheme and anybody who is worried about how we shape the economy and how we shape the environment.
Finance affects everybody. We want everybody to be thinking about what their money is doing.
As for the message, no. I don’t think the message has changed. We’ve used pretty consistently the message of “make money and make a difference” and I think that’s still core to the idea – that you can get a sensible and good return on your money whilst doing good.
Perhaps there is a change of emphasis. We certainly don’t want to be perceived as abandoning or moving on from the people who’ve supported NEIW for years – the faith community and some of the financial advisor community are still going to be central to this year’s Good Money Week. We just want to push it further, using that success as a foundation to spread the message more widely.
B>: Are there any new areas Good Money Week will be expanding into with that change of emphasis?
SH: One area we hope to do more on this year is banking. I think there’s a lack of understanding on the part of the general public about what the banks are doing. Everybody knows the banks have done bad stuff, but the banks are increasingly doing some good stuff.
Some big bangs like Barclays and Co-op have a commitment, and some of the smaller banks like Ecology and Triodos have an even more explicit commitment, to doing good.
We want to flag that and advertise that and let people know when they bank with a bank they are funding investment in local SMEs, they are funding mortgage lending. It’s not all libor rate fixing and interest rate fixing. Their money is already doing social good. We’d like to give that thinking an airing. And that obviously applies to a large number of people who might not think they are involved in financial services.
B>: How much of an impact do these awareness raising events have?
SH: I think they’re definitely worthwhile. I think what these weeks do is make it clear that there’s validity to the concepts that people may have heard about only vaguely before. They may have picked up one item on the news but when they start to see these campaigns they begin to realise that these concepts do have a solid foundation.
How you can measure that is very difficult, but I have no doubt that this is a good use of our time.
B>: What will constitute a success for Good Money Week?
SH: It’s very tricky to answer that. In the past we’ve done opinion polls that have shown a tick-up in awareness. But that’s quite expensive and they all come with a margin of error.
We have traditionally monitored media hits, and we probably will do that again. I think what we’ll try and do this year is come up with some metrics that cover more of the reach, so its how many people read that newspaper, how many people heard that radio broadcast. It’s about how many people have heard about the week, during the week. We need to find an effective way of measuring that. But I think we will know if it has been a success.
B>: What has changed in this sector since the last NEIW?
SH: We’ve seen continuing product development, which is very welcome. FTSE have launched some fossil free indices with Blackrock and Threadneedle launched the UK Social Bond Fund. Both of those are very interesting developments.
More generally, the fossil free debate is gathering traction, and generating a lot of talk among students and among some charities. That’s very important.
I also hope that the public has gained a better understanding of climate change after the flooding we experienced last winter. I’m hoping there’s a more advanced understanding now that something must be done about climate change and that those efforts have to be financed.
B>: Do you think enough progress has been made in the last year?
SH: No, clearly not. But I think the direction of travel is promising. We will win but the question is whether we will win fast enough. We’re clearly not moving as fast as we need to.
B>: You’ve lead UKSIF for more than a year now. What have you learned about the ethical and sustainable space in your time there?
SH: I’ve learned how very able and very committed many, many people are in the space. If you look at the UKSIF membership, we have a lot the very biggest and best firms. There are a lot of good people out there, it’s just a matter of coordinating them and pushing them together.
B>: What is the future for Good Money Week?
SH: Broadening is the key. Until we have a stream looking at almost every area of finance, there’s always scope for Good Money Week to grow.
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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