Tanya Pein, investment specialist for charities and private clients at In2 Consulting, gives advice to clients on sustainable, responsible and ethical investment.
She is also co-chair of the Ethical Investment Association, and tells Blue & Green Tomorrow that the vast majority of people are pleased and interested when such options are offered to them.
How did you get into sustainable, responsible and ethical financial advice as opposed to financial advice more generally?
I co-founded what I’m delighted to say is now the largest charity in Europe supporting social entrepreneurs, and I came into financial advice through charity investment. So it was natural to me to integrate values into investment, and into what I personally was doing as an independent financial adviser.
Most people have a vision of a better world, and I could clearly see that investment was a way of helping them realising their vision. It’s always enjoyable having those conversations with clients, and to offer sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) advice.
Tell us about your firm, its history, team numbers and what you see as its expertise.
My firm is called In2 Consulting and has been advising individuals, companies and charities for over 20 years. It has eight advisers and plenty of specialist expertise alongside the ethical investment advice that I give. This includes cashflow planning, holistic financial planning, private equity, pension consolidation, mortgages and employee benefits. We’re based in the City of London, but with clients nationwide.
Why do you think people should consider investing sustainably, responsibly and ethically?
Here’s a better question: “Why does it feel right to invest without considering the environmental damage my investments might make, or any human rights abuse or poor labour conditions that might underpin profits?”
This is a better question because everyone has a moral compass, and the idea of setting it aside when it comes to investment is relatively new. It doesn’t have to be that way, and the shift from that approach is gathering speed.
If you prefer the original question, here’s a quantitative answer: there is rigorous and recent academic research that shows that active engagement by fund managers with companies on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards boosts the investment return. That’s a very compelling finding – investors, take note.
Is there a compromise to be made between getting a return on investment and ‘doing the right thing’?
Of course – and the slave trade was extremely profitable, as an example. But that question is in the same faulty paradigm as the previous one: that it’s reasonable to invest without considering the impact of the investments.
It isn’t reasonable, and there is much evidence is that when people hear about poor practices that they certainly do care. For example, since the recent deaths in Bangladeshi clothes factories, there has been strong consumer pressure on UK high street retailers to insist on higher supplier standards.
Are there any sustainable, responsible and ethical funds that people should be looking into and talking to you about?
Yes, there’s plenty of funds, which have strong financial returns, have acceptable levels of risk and operate with relatively low management charges. I’ll be happy to give further details if readers get in touch.
What, if anything, is stopping sustainable, responsible and ethical investment from taking off in the UK?
Lack of publicity. Few investors ask specifically for these types of investments – and in my experience, the vast majority are pleased and interested when it is offered.
What trends have you noticed in sustainable, responsible and ethical investment in the past year?
A greater willingness of very senior investment strategists to integrate ESG factors into their views of the macroeconomy and the investment world. That steer from the top is trickling down through the major investment providers, with the result that SRI is becoming more mainstream – all to the good.
If people do not invest sustainably, responsibly and ethically what is the biggest consequence for them?
On the investment return side: lower returns in the medium and long-term. On the personal side: maybe fury from their children, once they realise how their parents invested, and what kind of inheritance has been delivered to their generation as a whole.
If you were stuck on a desert island, which famous person would you like to be stuck with and why?
Either a philosopher – we could have endless interesting conversations. Or a musician – we could sing and dance the hours away. Or a really strong swimmer – I could improve my speed and stamina, and then we’d get back to our loved ones. Those would be the practical considerations, and I wouldn’t mind if the person was famous or not.
What’s your prediction for the next 10 years of sustainable, responsible and ethical investment?
The great leap forward in awareness and practical action that we’ve all being waiting for. I would hope that it will come for positive reasons – people understanding why it makes sense from an investment and from an inter-generational equity point of view to change the way investments are made. But I suspect that environmental damage caused by an increasingly unstable climate, and various other negatives will unfortunately play a major role. Pessimism of the intellect, but optimism of the will, as the saying goes!
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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