Breaking news: the Pope is Catholic and bears fertilise the woods. A recent article in the Financial Times expressed ‘surprise’ that some ethical funds aren’t completely ethical. Some funds are more unsustainable, unethical and irresponsible than others, just like some companies and some people are. It’s a sliding scale from the darkest green to the bloodiest red.
In the run up to Good Money Week we always get a slew of newspaper articles that trot out the same tired arguments and cite the same few funds, which anyone in the socially responsible industry would probably avoid. As I wrote in an email response after this recent FT article was sent to me: “You get the pro-SRI articles, the hostile and everything in-between. Very rarely do we get a rational debate that informs, educates and entertains readers.”
It’s as if on an editorial floor somewhere in the days before Good Money Week, an editor picks a journalist at random and says: “Trot out 200-words on ethical investment being unethical and find me a couple of really egregious examples. Don’t worry about all the really good options, there’s a good fellow.” Year in, year out, the same every time. It’s beyond us why they don’t just print the same article every year and change the by-line to Troll.
Yes, it is true that some interesting companies make it into an ethical fund’s portfolio. But we have to accept in our free society that there isn’t a universally accepted view on what ‘ethical’ is. So by what universal standard of ethical weights and measures can it be confidently asserted that some ethical funds aren’t ethical?
For some investors it’s all about the sin stocks: smoking, drinking, gambling, adult entertainment, arms trade and nuclear power = bad. For some, the first four are a good night out.
Some investors disapprove of irredeemable fossil fuel companies, with their degradation of natural habitats and indigenous people, the air pollution and carbon bubbles. Other investors argue that those same companies still play a role in our economy (do you use electricity, have a gas oven, a car and use plastic?) and through active shareholder engagement can be convinced to play a greater part in the transition to a more sustainable economy. Others are working in those companies to make them more sustainable. When Shell isn’t foolishly trying to exploit the Arctic, it’s installing hydrogen vehicle fuel pumps across its ‘petrol’ stations in Germany.
Other investors still, are looking at the innovative, disruptive, fast-growth game changers in sustainability; clean technology, breakthrough healthcare and robotics, sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry, etc.
WHEB, Triodos, Threadneedle, Impax and Quilter Cheviot operate particularly good sustainable funds, focusing on positive themes, rather than the more classic screening of negative sin stocks. Alliance Trust, EdenTree, F&C, First State, Henderson. Pictet and Rathbone Greenbank are all good eggs from the more established ethical world. If I can scramble my egg metaphor, ‘rather a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without’.
Some funds are clearly participating in greenwashing – when an organisation spends more on claiming to be “green” than actually implementing positive environmental and social practices. This is true of ethical investment funds as it is in every single other commercial sector. Some ‘good’ ethical funds sit alongside the most unethical funds in a large asset management firm’s product suite. Can a fund be truly ethical if the company it sits under is 90% unethical?
And most people realise that companies and their advertising lie. That skin cream won’t make you more attractive or younger, something cannot be both new and improved, car emissions data aren’t worth the glossy adverts they’re printed on and everything that is labelled ethical, isn’t. So why express surprise unless you’re engaged in clickbait faux shock?
Historically we’ve take the editorial line that attacking the few bad eggs in the tiny ethical fund universe (140 funds) is lazy journalism, when there are sulphurous legions of really, really bad and harmful eggs in the mainstream fund universe (3,000+). But we’re still asked who the good funds are within the ethical universe. In our Guide to Sustainable Investment, launched on Friday, we will finally look at how the funds rate from an independent expert’s perspective.
Independent SRI Consultant John Fleetwood of 3D Investing told Blue & Green: “I suspect only a small minority of companies will ever adopt truly sustainable principles. Codes of conduct like the UN-backed Principles of Responsible Investment will always seek to be inclusive and therefore have a rather modest impact in terms of encouraging genuinely sustainable behaviour and activities. The focus is always on process – how companies operate – rather than on what the companies do.
“This matters, since I would argue that you can have the most sustainably managed arms manufacturer or tobacco company, but it means little if the core product kills people. This is at the very core of the problem as ‘sustainable’ indices and codes of conduct don’t consider the nature of the business. Identifying companies that demonstrate best practice in ethical and environmental terms does have an important role, but so does consideration of the impact of a company’s core products and services, and so does exclusion of companies whose products and services are clearly destructive.
“Genuine sustainability requires all three approaches – exclusion, social impact, sustainability management. This is the basis of 3D Investing which focuses on the ‘what’ of investing as much as the ‘how’, to identify those funds that are truly sustainable and those that are not.“
And then there are the growing number of sustainable alternatives to mainstream funds that the mainstream media fail to mention, such as Ethex. Ethex is an online platform that makes it easier for you to put your money directly into businesses whose mission and impacts you support, and that also offer a financial return.
Jamie Hartzell of Ethex said: “As we head into this year’s Good Money Week many of us will again be considering the ethical nature of our personal investments. This is never a simple task – if you want more than the skin deep you have to dig down to find the true information.
“Ethex makes all that easy – our aim is to make positive investment easy to do. And the good news is that there are now a handful of funds with a genuine interest in reporting their social and environmental outcomes. This is an exciting development and we’re looking to get these funds on Ethex soon so we can widen the positive choices available to investors.”
2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage
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.
How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018
Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.
Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:
1. Energy – produce it, save it
If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.
It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.
While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.
Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!
2. Don’t be just another tourist
Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.
3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly
We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.
To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.
It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.
4. Know thy recycling
People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.
People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.
5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool
Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.
All in all
The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.