Clare Bryden. Good money after bad. Church Times, 1 October 2021. Available on Church Times website (paywall).
Ten suggestions to use personal finance for a better world
1 Move your bank account
CONSIDER your bank statement. It can tell you much about your economic choices. The Third Church Estates Commissioner, Eve Poole has suggested looking at each transaction in turn, highlighting it as red, amber, or green, according to the ethics of the outlay or income — and aiming to turn reds to amber, and ambers to green.
You can check, also, whether your money is being used to fund climate chaos, on the website bank.green. For the five big banks and their sub-brands, the answer is yes. The bigger banks are financing many activities that harm society and the planet, but there are ethical alternatives where you can go beyond avoiding harm and invest in positive projects. Switching to one of these is among the most effective steps you can take.
Search online for ethical banking to discover alternative personal and business current accounts, savings, and mortgages. Banks seek to make the process of switching as smooth as possible. If you are not able, at the moment, to switch to a sustainable bank, note that you can set up reminders with bank.green. They also have guidance on how you can put pressure on your current bank.
2 Work less, live and give more?
IF YOU are ready to make serious changes, you could consider the income lines on your statement: whether they represent work that is worthwhile for you and the planet, and how much you really need to live a good life.
Could you work more strategically and spend less? Spending on almost anything equals carbon emissions. Making small changes might mean spending better.
Alternatively, are you in a position to set an income threshold and give the excess away? Practitioners of effective altruism work out how best to give for maximum impact. While it is good to be aware of this, it can be complex and time-consuming, and should not become a barrier to giving to causes that you care about — or giving at all.
3 ‘Use your LOAF’
WE SPEND £14 billion each year buying food that we throw away: £500 per household on average. It is the equivalent of putting a £10 note in the bin every week.
David Clough, Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chester, and founder of the projects CreatureKind and DefaultVeg, wants to encourage a move to more ethical food consumption. “Christianity has a long history of encouraging believers to recognise a connection between their faith and the food they eat. Thinking ethically about the impacts of the food we buy on humans, animals, and the planet is a great way to connect Christian belief and practice in our everyday lives.”
The Green Christian campaign “Use your LOAF!” encourages food that is Locally-produced, Organically-grown, Animal-friendly, and Fairly-traded. While it is good to support local producers, how food is produced typically has a greater impact than food miles. A plant-based diet is better for the planet and our health, as well as animal welfare.
It is becoming easier to go plant-based: there are vegan options in restaurants; recipe books and websites dedicated to vegan food; and meat-like alternatives for those who need stepping stones. If you would find it difficult to go vegan, or even vegetarian, you could try to cut animal products from more meals each week. If you are eating meat, fish, or dairy, but consciously eating less, try to know their source.
4 Put your energy in the right place
ENERGY is one of the biggest annual costs for households, and we waste a huge amount of this, too. Heating is the worst culprit; so improved insulation is key. There are also many small actions you can take to reduce your energy bills and carbon footprint, including switching unused devices off at the plug, and using energy-saving light bulbs.
Consider switching utilities, searching online for green energy suppliers UK. Based on your current bills, Uswitch will show you cheaper options and the green suppliers in your area. Look for companies that supply only green energy, rather than a big supplier who also offers fossil-fuel tariffs. The established green suppliers have demonstrated that they are well set up to weather the recent gas-price crisis.
Transport is another big household expenditure where you might be able to cut consumption. Walking and cycling are good for your wallet, fitness, air pollution, and climate. Covid introduced many to the staycation. Instead of flying, continue exploring the glories of the UK.
Manufacture is responsible for about one-third of a car’s lifetime carbon footprint, and it spends most of the time stationary. Consider whether you need a second car, or even your first. It could be much cheaper to take a taxi, or hire a car when needed. There are also an increasing number of car clubs with conveniently located vehicles. Or how about starting a parish car club, or an informal neighbourhood group?
5 Support the Black economy
TWO sobering facts: Black entrepreneurs are more than twice as likely to be denied a loan than their white counterparts; and Black female entrepreneurs receive less than one-thousandth of the total capital supplied to small UK enterprises that is needed for business growth.
We can counter this systemic racism by using our wallets to give direct support to the Black economy. Black Pound Day occurs on the first Saturday of every month, when we are all encouraged to spend our money on products from local or online Black-led businesses.
6 Keep it local
RESEARCH by the New Economics Foundation has found that every £1 spent locally is worth £1.76 through further circulation, whereas a pound spent in a large supermarket mostly drains out and is worth only 36p to the local economy.
Consider how many lines on your bank statement show the big chain stores and supermarkets, or online giants such Amazon, and then how you could shop locally instead. You may meet some interesting and knowledgeable business owners along the way.
Local currencies are one way of supporting the local economy (Feature, 28 October 2016), but many have folded recently. Others, including the Bristol Pound, Brixton Pound, and Hull Coin, are reinventing themselves digitally.
You may not need to use money at all, however, as the gift, barter, share, and exchange economies are enjoying a new lease of life.
Local exchange trading schemes (LETS) have been around for decades. Participants earn LETS credits by providing a service, and can then spend the credits on services offered by others. LETSLINK has a map of locations and guidance on setting up a scheme in your area.
Then there are many things that we use infrequently and could share, or hire, instead of buying. It can be smaller items too, and not just drills; the “thing” could equally well be a ukulele or a dehumidifier.
The Library of Things is a company that works in partnerships with councils and lending libraries, setting up in several locations in London. There are similar libraries of things springing up all over the UK, from the Share Shed mobile library in south Devon to the Edinburgh Tool Library.
While on the subject of libraries, Little Free Library provides guidance on how to start a book exchange scheme.
7 Explore ethical investment
SOME community groups are dreaming ambitious dreams, forming social enterprises to take over the local pub, build a community centre, or develop a people’s power station. Peer-to-peer investment in such projects is booming.
You do not need to have thousands to invest. I recently used Ethex to invest in the Low Carbon Hub in Oxfordshire. According to the social impact director Saskya Huggins: “The Low Carbon Hub have a minimum investment level of £100, and the Ethex platform has helped to connect us with a diverse range of people who wanted to put their money to work tackling climate change.”
Spacehive is a crowd-funding platform for projects that seek to improve community spaces. Abundance offers green and social projects, and Community Municipal Investments supports local councils working towards net zero. Other platforms, such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and CrowdCube allow you to invest in creative ideas.
Or, looking overseas, your money could help provide micro-loans through Shared Interest, Deki, and similar platforms.
For those with larger sums, there are many ethical savings accounts, cash ISAs, stocks and shares ISAs, equity funds, or bonds.
The Big Exchange, co-founded by the Big Issue, offers ISAs, Junior ISAs, and (shortly) pension accounts. It vets all investments for their positive social and environmental impact.
Innovative finance ISAs are a new vehicle that manage peer-to-peer lending, matching up lenders with individual or business borrowers. The returns are typically higher, but also riskier than cash ISAs. Whether they are ethical depends on the categories of borrowers.
Especially if you are considering equity funds or bonds, it is worth researching thoroughly and getting advice from an independent financial adviser well-versed in ethical investing. Consider funds with high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards. Many companies offer socially responsible portfolios. Possibilities include the EdenTree, part of the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, and Nutmeg.
(Tickr is currently relaunching as CIRCA5000.)
8 Campaign for disinvestment
THE fossil-fuel industries and the banks that finance them are largely responsible for climate change, but have managed to shift the blame to individuals and our carbon footprints. Shift the responsibility back by acting and campaigning to divest from fossil fuels.
The Church of England’s ethical investment policy still allows investment in fossil fuels, and the dioceses hold £18 million in fossil-fuel companies. Operation Noah’s campaign Bright Now is calling for disinvestment; ask your diocese, your PCC, and any other organisations you support where they invest their reserves; and put pressure on the Church of England to withdraw from fossil fuels for good.
More widely, you could get involved in share activism. ShareAction needs volunteers to ask questions at AGMs in the UK and Europe to challenge the biggest companies on the issues that matter, and provides tools and resources to support you.
But a shift to a true green and just economy will happen only if governments put the right policy framework in place. Write to your MP, cabinet members, and the Lords to shift the tax burden from good things, such as employment, to bad things, such as carbon; other pollution; consumption of raw materials; close tax loopholes; end fossil-fuel subsidies and fund renewables; end cronyism and rent-seeking; care for the common good; outlaw the gig economy; and enact policies that close the gap between rich and poor.
There are many online resources to educate yourself on the economy and the issues:
9 Offset the remainder
CARBON offsets have been compared to medieval indulgences — giving money to the Church to ensure time off in purgatory. It was effectively a licence to continue sinning. We, too, might justify that long-haul flight by adding a few pounds to the ticket price to plant a few trees.
But, given that you will not reduce your carbon emissions to zero in the short term, you could consider offsetting the remainder. There are schemes that invest in carbon-saving projects in developing countries, besides planting trees. You need to make sure that they are bona fide: that carbon emission savings are calculated per year, not over the lifetime of the tree or project, and that trees planted are not mono-culture replacing grubbed-up rainforest.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) operates the carbon offset platform Climate Neutral Now, with a choice of projects. Or with Ecologi you could combine investment in trees and projects.
10 Plan a pension for the future
IF YOU have a pension, you are an investor, and not necessarily where you expect. My once-ethical Friends Provident Stewardship fund has been taken over twice, and I was shocked to discover that Aviva invests it in the FTSE-100.
Many workplace schemes automatically enrol employees; so you are never too young to take an interest, and it could make a big difference. According to Make My Money Matter’s campaign 21x, greening your pension can cut your carbon 21x more than changing diet, giving up flying, and switching energy provider — although it’s good to consider these, too.
To make pensions work ethically, get to know the industry. Good With Money’s Good Guide to Pensions explains the jargon and equips you with information and tools. Encourage your pension provider to communicate better: according to ShareAction’s report Pensions for the Next Generation: Communicating what matters, typical pensions-industry communications dissuade people from engaging, even though they care about where their money goes. Ask questions: the 21x campaign provides a tool to contact private and workplace pension schemes. If you tailor your email, it is more likely to get noticed. Ask them not just to pay lip service, but to act on net zero — and make sure that it applies to funds as well as business operations.
Good Money Week runs from 2 to 8 October. goodmoneyweek.com