Fast Fashion: Cheap, trendy and environmentally damaging

The value of the global fashion industry is said to be 3,000 billion dollars, or 2 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (Fashion United). There has been increasing coverage on the appalling and unsafe conditions garment factory employees work at for only a minimum wage below $3 US Dollars. Going back a few years some might remember the 2013 Savar building collapse where a structural failure accident lead to 1,134 deaths, with the several garment factories inside the building manufacturing apparel for brands such as Monsoon, Mango, Primark and Walmart.

But not enough light has been shed on the aftermath of fast fashion. Fast fashion is defined as designs that move from the catwalk quickly to clothing stores to capture current fashion trends. Household names such as Zara, Primark, H&M, ASOS, Boohoo and Topshop are all considered to come under this term. With an ever-growing population comes an increased demand for apparel, more specifically ‘fashionable’ apparel, many believe that it is in fact the actual fast fashion brands themselves that have conditioned us to become materialistic machines.  It can be agreed that wardrobes in developed economies are saturated so to be able to sell more products, fashion retailers must entice shoppers with constant newness and affordability to convince them the items they already have are no longer fashionable and they need more.

Moreover, the use of social media has fed social influence in the discovery of the latest trends particularly for millennial’s. Fast fashion giants such as Boohoo and Missguided have cut costs down to the minimum through not having stores, allowing them to push business models, such as “test and repeat”, that involves making small quantities of around 300 pieces of clothing at a high variety and then rapidly increasing production of the third or so that have sold the best.

Making such a huge step in the development of supply chain models and sales of the fashion industry is truly something to be impressed about, but not so much when it is costing the environment unrecoverable damage.

Fast fashion is now the second environmentally damaging industry in the world, next to oil, and this stems from the very beginning of an outfits journey. The global fashion industry is generating masses of greenhouse gasses due to the energy needed to produce, manufacture and transport the millions of garments that are produced every year. The most popular fabrics are synthetic (nylon, viscose, polyester) as they’re cheaper to produce and more durable, however they are fabricated from fossil fuels such as petroleum or coal which are two of the dirtiest types of energy source in terms of carbon emissions.


The majority of cotton grown worldwide is now genetically modified making it resistant to pests that would hinder its quality and yield but just as there are super bugs resistant to antibiotics there are strains of pests that are resistant to the typical pesticide- they need to be treated with stronger pesticides that are toxic to humans and animals. Some possible side effects of pesticides that present a high risk for cotton farmers include infertility and sterility, respiratory disorders, skin irritation and cancer.

 Abandoned barrel full of toxic chemicals from textile production. (Image Source: Getty/istock)

Abandoned barrel full of toxic chemicals from textile production. (Image Source: Getty/istock)

A lot of garment factories around the world are situated in developing economies where the largely unregulated textile industry can thrive, again at the cost of its surroundings. Toxic chemicals that are used in dyeing and fabric finishing processes end up directly as waste in rivers, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture (Independent). The waste dumped in rivers is extremely harmful to people living in the surrounding river banks as well as aquatic life, moreover the contamination can spread so far it reaches the sea and around the globe.

 Cloth being dyed in Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China. (Image Source: Keren Su/Corbis)

Cloth being dyed in Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China. (Image Source: Keren Su/Corbis)

Some of the harmful remnants can still be found on clothes long after the production process, Greenpeace pressed for its Detox campaign after it found the traces of hazardous chemicals on several brands’ products. Not only is waste dumped into surrounding water sources but tremendous amounts of water are needed to produce clothing items, approximately 7,000 litres of water are needed to produce one pair of jeans (The True Cost). In a 2014 announcement by NASA, satellite images revealed that the Aral Sea which was once the world’s fourth largest lake, has almost completely dried up due to the lake being used to grow 1.47m hectares of conventional cotton (not to be confused with organic cotton, its sustainable sibling). The sea used to be home to 24 species of fish and even though the lake was salt water, the rivers that fed it were of fresh water. Another consequence of the sea drying up is an increase in the number of dust and salt storms, these also come with a shift in the climate change of the immediate area as the Aral Sea kept the climate in the region regulated by lessening strong Siberian winds in the winter and cooling the area in the months of summer.

 Before and after of the Aral Sea, 2000 and 2009. (Image Source: NASA)

Before and after of the Aral Sea, 2000 and 2009. (Image Source: NASA)

A study found that every time a synthetic garment is washed, around 1,900 individual microfibers are released into the water which then make their way into the oceans. These microfibers are ingested by small aquatic organisms such as krill and plankton, they accumulate while moving their way up the food chain and concentrate toxins in the bodies of larger animals which we consume. While countries are coming together to ban the use of micro beads in cosmetic and cleaning products, it’s said that microfibers have a more harmful effect on the environment and with 190,000 tons of textile micro plastic fibres ending up in our oceans every year it’s time we try and become more conscious.

What can you do/be done about it?

Don’t give in to the mesmerising powers of fast-fashion and constant online sales! To mass produce very high numbers of garments, fast-fashion conglomerates cut corners on quality meaning items won’t last you as long as you would like – further adding to fashion pollution. As previously mentioned, a lot of garment manufacturing companies are based in developing nations where regulations are lax, so where possible choosing clothes which are made in countries with more rigid environmental regulations for factories like Europe, Canada and the US can ensure we’re a step closer to making sure their apparel is not affecting the environment.

Furthermore, choosing organic and natural fibres e.g. linen, hemp and bamboo means clothing pieces can biodegrade instead of taking 20-200 years to decompose so less fashion waste ends up in landfills. Several brands have already taken it upon themselves to make changes, an outdoor wear and gear company has been creating recycled polyester from plastic soda bottles from 1993 in the attempt to make a step forward towards a more sustainable system - using fabrics recycled from plastic decreases our dependence on petroleum. Another company, a renowned denim manufacturer, has also started using recycled bottles to make garments- since Spring 2013 they have utilised 11.9 million recycled bottles towards a collection of apparel that are made of 20 percent post-consumer waste.

Good Money Week: Why our portfolios are now fully divested

In light of Good Money Week we wanted to explain why our portfolios are now fully divested.

It is a fact that there are a growing number of people who are aware of, and want to fight against, man made climate change. It is also a fact, that most pensions and Stocks and Shares ISAs contain funds which invest in fossil fuel extraction or exploration companies due to the simple fact that they historically have provided excellent returns. I’ve spoken to clients who donate money each month to charities such as Greenpeace, and at the same time hold money (without realising it) through their pensions, in Shell and BP!

We’ve been wanting to provide a solution to this problem for some time. The problem for us wasn’t necessarily a lack of time, knowledge or inclination, but more a lack of choice! For example, winding the clock back only a few years, I could only find one fund which had a clear, checkable policy on excluding fossil fuel stock. One fund of course is not enough to make a portfolio! Our aim as wealth managers is to ensure that client money is diversified, can be tweaked according to changes in performance, cost, the emergence of new funds, risk and so forth. We have been checking the market place continually since that point, and, happily for clients and for the world in general, there seems to have been a rather swift change of direction in the market. We’ve seen numerous new funds launch, matched by clearer exclusion policies for existing funds.

 Image Source: Finance Matters

Image Source: Finance Matters

We now offer portfolios which are 100% free of fossil fuel extraction and exploration companies to suit every category of investment risk. A divested range of portfolios such as this is something we believe to be unique in our sector and has taken years of ongoing research and gradual improvements to work towards, with continued effort required to maintain and develop the proposition.

You might ask yourself why we believe that fossil fuel investment should be avoided?

Firstly, we consider the overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made climate change is real, and is a result of our carbon emissions to be a compelling reason not to support the industry on ethical grounds. Climate change is causing problems in a range of areas where it is not yet perhaps given full credit. A warmer climate is leading to more extreme weather events and destabilized seasons which can lead to turmoil for farmers and our food resources. As well as the humanitarian issues; we are losing land- with trillions of dollars of real estate around the world is on coastlines and directly at risk from a rising sea level, and animals such as polar bears, coral and turtles.

 Image Source: Forbes

Image Source: Forbes

Secondly, and removing any ethical, moral or political arguments, we have the risk of the ‘Carbon Bubble’. At the recent Paris Climate Agreement (COP21), 195 nations agreed to various measures to ensure that global temperatures did not exceed 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial temperatures, as it has been accepted that we will experience an environmental catastrophe if we go much beyond this. We now have a legal obligation to reduce the level of carbon emissions at a national level. This means that significant assets currently making up the balance sheets and therefore the valuations of fossil fuel companies, can never be extracted and turned into money. This means that right now, many of the world’s largest companies, whose shares are owned by most of the worlds investment and pension funds, are significantly overvalued. We do not consider this a worthwhile risk to take, especially when you factor in the growth, and potential growth available through their competitor industries in the clean energy generation sectors.

If you also believe in avoiding fossil fuels we can check your pension or ISA for them, and if necessary help you ensure that your money is no longer supporting the fossil fuel industry, or indeed at risk from it!

Debunking the myth of poor performance from ethical investment

There was a time, in the not too dim and distant past, when considering whether to invest in an ‘ethical’ fund may well have been a similar thought process to deciding whether or not to donate money to a charity. Ethical investing was an option only suitable for the ultra green, ultra ethical, ultra adventurous investor and the thought of ‘doing good’ would have more than likely been a more powerful driving force than the usual fear/greed considerations which we all go through when considering investing our hard-earned cash. Options were limited, confusing and they were notably more expensive. Options depended too much on only a few factors, government subsidies for example.

  Possible investment issues people can avoid through investing ethically (from top left to right): armaments, intensive farming, extraction of fossil fuels and gambling.    (Image sources: National Defence Industrial Association,    www.ndia.org/divisions   ,    www.chickens.allotment-garden.org   , Keyword Hungry,    www.keywordhungry.com   , Casino News Daily, www.casinonewsdaily.com)

Possible investment issues people can avoid through investing ethically (from top left to right): armaments, intensive farming, extraction of fossil fuels and gambling.

(Image sources: National Defence Industrial Association, www.ndia.org/divisions, www.chickens.allotment-garden.org, Keyword Hungry, www.keywordhungry.com, Casino News Daily, www.casinonewsdaily.com)

I can remember clients coming to me for advice, describing themselves (fairly, in my opinion) as ethical, or socially responsible. When we came to look at the infamous ‘past performance’ of the ethical options I would present them with, in comparison to ‘standard’ funds, the social responsibility and ethics they felt so strongly about suddenly became less of a driving force in their thinking. There were clear ‘danger signs’ all over the place… more volatility, lower returns, higher costs. It was very difficult to advise anyone to put their money into ethical funds, on the basis of performance alone, as opposed to standard funds.

Fortunately for ethically minded investors and the world at large, a quite remarkable transformation has taken place in this part of the investment universe. Where previously, there simply were not enough ethical funds available to put together and maintain a portfolio, now we can assemble portfolios of funds which to varying degrees take ethics, corporate governance, sustainability, environmental impact, and social responsibility into consideration when selecting the stocks which drive performance.

The chart below gives a good illustration of what an ‘ethical investor’ could have achieved over the last ten years. We’ve used the Bank of England Base Rate, and the Halifax Property Index as well as our own ‘Medium Risk Portfolio’ and benchmark to give some context. It is important to point out that none of this data should be in any way relied upon as a guarantee of similar future performance, but it gives a clear illustration that investing ethically does not necessarily mean compromising on risk or giving up a good return in the way that it previously did. Your money can be put to good use for yourself and for the wider world.

 Comparison of our own ‘Medium Risk Portfolio’ (Green) and benchmark, with the Bank of England Base Rate and the Halifax Property Index (2008-now).

Comparison of our own ‘Medium Risk Portfolio’ (Green) and benchmark, with the Bank of England Base Rate and the Halifax Property Index (2008-now).

As more and more people become aware of the problems facing society and our environment, demand is increasing for ethical solutions to all aspects of our day to day lives. Investments and pensions are no different. This is driving more and more fund houses and wealth managers to either bring these concerns into their existing fund processes, or to launch new funds to meet demand. We expect ‘ethical’ investing to become mainstream within the next few years, and there is certainly no longer a need for us to equate ‘doing good’ with sacrificing returns. Our portfolios are now 100% divested of fossil fuel extraction and exploration companies, something we could never have achieved even a couple of years ago. Your pension or ISA can now be ‘doing good’ for yourself and for the wider world.

We're now 100% divested from fossil fuel extraction and exploration

I’ve always thought that ‘bubble’ was quite an inadequate word for describing a market force with the power to destabilise the global economy. However, the imagery attached to the word works, we can picture the bubble getting larger and then bursting, then… the comparisons end. When a soapy bubble bursts, it just simply ceases to be, but the other kind? Well, you will probably remember the sub-prime mortgage bubble bursting? The immediate aftermath saw the collapse of Lehman Brothers bank, panic in most financial markets, job losses, central banks and governments in chaos and vast sums of money effectively being sprung out of nowhere, generated into the system through quantitative easing in order to stave off the end of the world. We’ve had years of austerity in the UK, impacting millions of people who had never held an investment or mortgage or product which had directly supported the sub-prime mortgage market. The Bank of England alone created £435 Billion through its QE programme as a response to this bubble bursting. For context, that is £435,000,000,000, enough money to build over a thousand new hospitals!

Economists justifiably refer to it as the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Quite a bubble. 

And all of this happened due to a breakdown in regulation and oversight combined with the natural phenomenon of human greed playing out in a relatively small sector of the market. Since it happened, measures have been taken to prevent it ever happening again. Banks can no longer hurl money at people who would never be able to prove they were capable of making the repayments. Levels of cash being held by banks has risen to ensure that central banks will not need to bail them out. The mortgage process from start to finish came under intense scrutiny for years. And yet… As is so often the case, we learn a hard lesson and fail to apply that learning more broadly. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and usually very badly applied. We want the good times to continue, so we carry on doing specific things which ‘work’, until those specific things stop working.

Which leads us to carbon.

 Oil pumps (Image Source: Museo Fisogni)

Oil pumps (Image Source: Museo Fisogni)

One way of looking at this is that ‘everything is fine’. Most pension funds invest in gas or oil or other forms of fossil fuel and it makes sense as to why they are - it costs much less to extract than what it sells for, and there's profit to be made at every step along the supply chain. This is how it’s always been. You could go so far as to say that our entire economy would grind to a complete halt without a supply of oil. Not only are we dependent on it, we’ve been heavily dependent on it for decades. It’s an ingredient in plastic. Its energy helps us produce everything. It helps us transport everything. 

It is a very much larger part of our lives, our economies and our investments than the sub-prime mortgage market ever was. 

And yet there is now a scientific consensus that our use of fossil fuels will destroy the ecosystems which support our existence on this planet. Unless we make swift, large scale changes in how we go about our lives, we are possibly not going to have a future as a species. This is a very uncomfortable thought and since we are not seeing the consequences (or not enough of us are) yet, because things have not actually broken down and because the bubble has not yet burst, we are ignoring the problem. The problem is even more difficult to deal with because it is still providing heating but also profit for us. We are addicted to fossil fuels on one hand, and inert, either through our laissez faire nature or fearful avoidance of contemplating the sheer scale of the problem on the other.

This, however, does not mean the problem is going away, or that the bubble will not burst.

Perhaps now would be a good time to explain why we are referring to a ‘carbon bubble’, and why in some ways this offers a glimmer of hope.

As we’ve alluded to, the investment world is welded to the world of fossil fuel exploitation in a way which is incomparable to most other asset classes. If you look ‘under the bonnet’ of almost any pension in the UK for example, you will find shares in more than one oil company. Your own pension, wherever it is held, is unlikely to be an exception. It would be fair to say that there are thousands of people in this country alone, who’s professional lives are spent watching, analysing and commenting on the price or movement of fossil fuel assets. People in the financial services industry, like us, know very well what sort of factors have what effect on what asset. It’s not rocket science, you do not need to be an economist to predict what will happen to the price of a product if, for example, a rival company comes up with a demonstrably better equivalent product. 

We refer to a carbon bubble because we know that our use of fossil fuel cannot continue as it has done in the past, yet it continues. We understand that if the assets (oil fields, coal mines etc) which currently exist on the balance sheets of fossil fuel companies are monetised, the global climate will be pushed above a threshold where our survival is possible. We know that clean energy sources are becoming cheaper and more efficient with each passing week. In other words, we know that change must happen. 

 An off shore oil rig (Image Source: Steve Ringman/ The Seattle Times)

An off shore oil rig (Image Source: Steve Ringman/ The Seattle Times)

We see three potential outcomes. Firstly, no change in our behaviour, we carry on exactly as we are until it is too late, at which point the value of investments will no longer be a priority for anyone. We’ve seen tiny examples of how powerful a small change in global climate can be. It has resulted in floods, fires, hurricanes, water and food shortages which has displaced millions of people, led to conflict between nations and shaken the insurance industry. Larger changes will be cataclysmic. The second potential outcome is that the bubble bursts. Potentially we have enough time to address the climate problem, but the realisation of this and action comes too late, and much too swiftly to stop a huge economic collapse. It is estimated that $20 Trillion of fossil assets which we already know about, need to stay in the ground for human life on the planet to continue. If this is accepted by the markets in a sudden, panicked reaction to a final admittance that man-made climate change is real, the infamous bubble will burst. The recent sub-prime mortgage bubble will be a picnic by comparison. When credit dried up, we were able to replace it with money from nowhere, despite the ensuing problems.  The same rules do not apply to a tangible asset which is present in almost every good and service we consume.

The third way is to begin a global move away from a reliance on fossil fuels, as swiftly and smoothly as possible. This move will need to take many forms. From switching to renewable energy for our cars, homes and businesses, to cutting our reliance on plastic, to sourcing more of our food and goods at a local level. Every part of our modernised way of life will need to move within the parameters of the natural world, and we have to admit this. Clearly, this is the preferable option, and even more so clearly, we are not ready for it yet. One way of beginning to speed up the transition to a sustainable, carbon neutral economy/existence is to move money directly away from damaging areas such as fossil fuel exploration and extraction. This will have two immediate positive impacts for the planet. Firstly, less ‘bad stuff’, secondly, more chance of the money being used to find and improve alternative solutions which will speed up the positive change. From an investors perspective (and anyone with a pension is an investor), you can safeguard your money from the potential bursting of the carbon bubble, and help bring about positive change, simply by ensuring that your pension is not still deeply involved in fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

Our portfolios are now fully divested, ensuring that our clients’ pensions and ISAs benefit from all of the research and attention you would expect from a wealth manager, whilst helping the transition to a sustainable economy and relationship with the world.

 Divestment protest in Oxford (Image source: Climate Change News)

Divestment protest in Oxford (Image source: Climate Change News)

For more than one reason, now might be a good time to check where your pension or ISA money is actually invested. You can contact us today for a no obligation conversation about how we might be able to help you, and you might be able to help the wider world.

Intensive Farming - why is it bad and what can you do to help?

What is factory farming

Factory farming or intensive farming is the use of highly intensive practices to produce livestock; poultry, pigs and cattle are confined and crammed in huge numbers into tight cages and sheds that more often than not do not have windows or proper ventilation systems, where they are left to eat, sleep, excrete and essentially live. Farms are able to control possibly every factor in these units in order to rear animals to their optimum level; temperature, humidity, food and water intake. Producers say this process is supposedly driven by the demand of cheap food and meat, intensive farming not only meets but facilitates this need providing an end product efficiently and competitively. In the UK alone as of March 2017 there were 1418 permits issued for intensive poultry farms the biggest of which are found in Herefordshire and Shropshire (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism).

 Pigs kept in cages only just bigger than their own bodies. (Image source: 8000 hours)

Pigs kept in cages only just bigger than their own bodies. (Image source: 8000 hours)

Why is it bad:

No, your perfectly package set of chicken breasts for £4 From the supermarket doesn’t come with warning notes but perhaps it should.

First of all, the conditions in which these animals are subjected to are beyond inhumane, most of these animals haven’t seen the light of day and are so stressed with what is happening to them that they often end up to showing cannibal behaviour. Rest assured, farmers debeak their birds by trimming them or placing them on a hot metal plate to reduce their size (majority of the time without anaesthetic) to make sure the chickens do not hurt themselves or each other as this would mean a farmer loses out on stock and so profits. Farm animals raised for meat “grow three times faster than they would naturally. This is due to selective breeding, growth hormones, and antibiotics in the feed. Chickens reach desired weight in just 35 days.” (Green and Growing)

Factory farming is contaminating the planet as the pesticides and fertilizers used leak into the planets’ soil and water, it also puts a massive strain on natural resources like water, grain and land. Just to put things in perspective, livestock production accounts for around 23% of all water used in agriculture - equivalent to more than 1,150 litres per person per day (WWF). The manufacture of synthetic fertilizers used to grow the crops that feed livestock require vast volumes of valuable resources like phosphorus and nitrogen that can be used elsewhere such as producing crops to feed the world population.

How does it affect you?

The contaminated conditions in which the animals live in allow for diseases to be more easily spread. Diseases such as Salmonella and E.coli fester in the factory farms and this then spreads onto humans through contaminated meat. Waste compounds of factory farms are often dumped and left to rot into enormous brown puddles or sprayed over fields spreading bacteria and damaging substances into the air we breathe and the water we use. “Chemical and infectious compounds from swine and poultry waste are able to migrate into soil and water” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), subsequently neighbouring people often fall sick from the improper waste disposal. Bacteria finds the perfect breeding ground in the squalid conditions these animals are forced to live in, to add to that, the animals are so stressed that their immune systems are weakened and so they’re even more prone to these diseases. Farmers have to try and reduce the amount of diseases and infections in these factory farms so animals are overloaded with antibiotics, however there is considerable correlation between factory farming and the rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the name for bacteria that are becoming immune to the drugs that initially would combat them - bacteria being exposed time and time again to antibiotics adapt and evolve resistance to live alongside them. Drug-resistant strains can be passed from direct contact, such as that of a farmer and animal but can also be passed onto humans that consume meat and products like milk from infected animals, lastly it can also be released into the atmosphere through animal waste.

 A look inside a poultry farm. (Image Source: ASPCA)

A look inside a poultry farm. (Image Source: ASPCA)

What can be done:

So now you must be asking yourself, what can I do to put an end to this atrocity?

If you can’t give up meat why not try switching to organically farmed animals and organic laid eggs, if your disposable income allows you to. Contrary to popular belief free range eggs are actually not as ‘free’ as we think, “birds raised for meat may be sold as “free-range” if they have government certified access to the outdoors. The door may be open for only five minutes and the farm still qualifies as “free-range.” (United Poultry Concerns)

Reducing your meat intake is a step you’ve heard everywhere before, but instead of turning a full-fledged vegan right away you could gradually decrease your meat consumption over time. This is particularly directed to you if you have an addiction to bacon! ‘Meat-free Mondays’ is global movement where a person will give up meat for a whole day. For one day a week you can explore amazing different meat-free foods, of which recipes are widely available online. Of course, for those who feel more strongly and believe that they could take the plunge, there is always the route of becoming vegetarian or vegan. Eating a balanced vegetarian or plant-based diet can bring many health benefits such as lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, better blood sugar levels- all while making sure animals aren’t being treated cruelly.

If you can’t bare to part with meat that’s been factory farmed at all but still feel a bit guilty, there are countless of petitions online to either stop factory farming or improve farm animal welfare. Lots of these campaigns can be found online, more specifically on the website Change.org.

If you would like to invest in ISA’s and pensions in a more responsible way, please contact us – we’d be happy to help!

 Young cows growing on a factory farm. (Source: Animal Equality/PA)

Young cows growing on a factory farm. (Source: Animal Equality/PA)

 

Here are some more scary facts about factory farming!

  • There are almost 800 US-style “mega-farms” in the UK. (Source: The Bureau of Around 70% of farm animals in the UK are kept in factory farms. (Source: CIWF, Compassion in World Farming

  • Chickens in battery cages (metal mesh cages, housing system for animals, primarily egg-laying hens) have to live their whole lives in a space no larger than an iPad. (Source: CIW)

  • While cows can live naturally to about twenty years old, many dairy cows living in factory farms are sent to slaughter before they reach the age of five. Though cows can naturally remain productive for 12-15 years, the intensive conditions of industrial dairies can take a toll on their health. (Source: Huffington Post)

How to Help Turn the Tide on Plastic Pollution

As a global economy we have become addicted to plastic since its emergence in the 1960s. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century. (Eurostat, 2015) It is ever present, and covers almost everything we buy. Unfortunately, it’s almost ever present even after we’ve used it, and is beginning to cover and choke the systems which sustain us. It is said that one garbage truck of plastic ends up in the oceans, every minute. (World Economic Forum) More and more people are aware that there is a problem, and that they are contributing to it. What can we all actually do about it? In the absence of leadership at government level the rest of us must step up and begin to turn the tide on plastic.

 Laysan Albatrosses, “A chick can have an ounce of plastic in its belly and remain healthy; the dead chicks have twice as much.” (Image Source: Chris Jordan, Ocean)

Laysan Albatrosses, “A chick can have an ounce of plastic in its belly and remain healthy; the dead chicks have twice as much.” (Image Source: Chris Jordan, Ocean)

Due to the fact that plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose we can all try using less whenever this is an available option (Recycling Guide). Think of your day-to-day life, where can you cut back on plastic? A reusable coffee mug and water bottle? Bring your own bags to the supermarket? If permitting, instead of shopping at multinational supermarkets that cover everything in plastic, why not try your local fruit and vegetable market- not only is their produce not suffocated in plastic and probably organic, but you’re also contributing to your local economy. To try and look at it in perspective, think of the difference even a small change like this will make… For example, one cup used over and over instead of hundreds throughout a year... If society begins and maintains acting collectively with each person doing their little bit, then the effort will be multiplied and this results in a bigger change!

 Landfill filled with plastic waste (Image Source: Shuttershock)

Landfill filled with plastic waste (Image Source: Shuttershock)

If you want to be more proactive, there are numerous lobbying groups and campaigns which you can join, being part of a team that are like-minded will help keeping the positive messages going and inspire others. Greenpeace, Avaaz, Friends of the Earth to name but a few are always looking for more people to help spread the word on using less plastic and other green ways of living.

Another problem with plastic is that it is not just about pollution, and the fact that we are strangling the environment with our discarded single use plastics… It’s also that we use huge amounts of fossil fuels to make them in the first place. Why we find it acceptable or normal to act in such a wasteful fashion is probably a topic for another blog, however, at this point we would like to shed some light on another way that you personally could help turn the tide.

 Grey whale in net, “Marine mammals like whales often mistake marine debris for a potential food source.” (Image Source: Environmental Impact Assessment)

Grey whale in net, “Marine mammals like whales often mistake marine debris for a potential food source.” (Image Source: Environmental Impact Assessment)

If you own a type of financial instrument, for example an ISA or a pension, there is a very good chance that within the investment hidden behind the name of the fund- you own all sorts of stocks and shares in companies that you might have wanted to avoid. Oil and gas companies, tobacco companies, weapons manufacturers make up disproportionately large chunks of the investment world as they have always generated money for the owners, the shareholders. However, there are many other ways to increase your wealth, and lots of these can actually have a positive impact on society and the environment! If you have made the effort to buy reusable coffee mugs and water bottles, take your own bags to the supermarket, perhaps even helped with a litter pick-up, why not take a closer look at what the money in your pension is supporting?

We are here to help shed light on how investments and pensions work, and how yours could become a real force for good with considerably less exertion on your part than a day picking up litter in the park!

Here are some more scary facts about plastic use!

  • Each EU citizen creates an average of 31kg of plastic waste per year (Source: Eurostat, 2015)

  •  The European country creating the most plastic waste per citizen is Ireland, with an average of 61kg thrown away each year (Source: Eurostat)

  •  A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes, however its estimated that 4 trillion plastic bags are used annually worldwide (Source: Plastic Ocean)

What is purposeful investing?

There is a strong possibility that right now, the money in your ISA or pension could be indirectly (or even directly) financing human rights abuses, environmental abuses, animal testing, weapons production. If you care about where and how your money is invested and whether this currently has a negative effect on the planet, Purposeful investing is definitely something for you.

This article is our attempt to decipher and un-complicate the jargon heavy world you will often encounter when researching how to put your money where your heart is, and explain what that actually looks like with Purposeful.Money in a Purposeful investment.

Numerous phrases have been used almost interchangeably in the financial press and by financial institutions and you may or may not have come across the following (in no particular order!):

  • ESG’ (‘Environmental, Social and Governance’)
    Environmental, Social and Governance are the three main ‘headline’ factors that investors measure when deciding whether to invest in a company. They are viewed and analysed from the financial point of view (i.e ‘is this issue likely to have a negative impact on the value of my investment?’). You could almost argue that ESG investing is not led by an ethical concern, but that many issues which are important to an ethical investor are addressed by the process.

    • Environmental criteria consider the performance of a business in relation to issues such as waste and pollution, resource depletion, greenhouse gas emission, deforestation and climate change.

    • Social criteria consider employee relations and diversity, working conditions, local communities, health and safety and conflict

    • Governance criteria consider tax strategy, executive remuneration, donations and political lobbying, corruption and bribery and board diversity and structure.

  • ‘SRI’ (Socially Responsible Investing/Investment): This is defined as any investment strategy which seeks to consider both financial return and ‘social good’, to bring about social change. As usual, there is plenty of room for interpretation here (which has led to another phenomenon which we explain in this article, called ‘green washing’), and has been used seemingly interchangeably with ‘ethical investing’ and ‘sustainable investing’ in recent years.

  • Impact Investing’: This is a slightly clearer investment strategy, in as much as it will focus on profiting from solving a societal/environmental problem, as opposed to ignoring it and simply profiting from ‘non-damaging’ areas of the market. A good example would be an investment in one of the various ‘clean energy’ sectors such as solar or wind, where invested money is not only avoiding funding damaging areas of the market, it is helping speed up a more general move towards ‘better’ business by helping development, market share, awareness etc. Some funds are genuinely ‘Impact’, but they are still currently in the minority. Part of Purposeful. Money’s broader aim is to support Impact investing and help it become more widespread. Where possible and justifiable, we include Impact funds as a matter of preference in our portfolios over other holdings.

  • Positive/Negative Screening: These are strategies applied by Socially Responsible fund managers (and other investors) where certain types of investment will be specifically excluded or included during the selection process, An example of negative screening (probably the more common approach of the two, currently) would be a fund stating that in order to show it is making an effort to invest ‘ethically’ or ‘sustainably’ it will exclude all investments in tobacco or fossil fuels. Positive screening on the other hand is very similar to the ‘Impact’ approach, and looks to include investments which can be argued to be making a positive difference to the world in general (not just financially for its shareholders). Again, ‘clean energy’ would be a good, simple example of such a ‘Positive Screening approach.

  • Greenwashing: ‘Sustainable’, ‘ethical’, ‘socially responsible’ investing has been experiencing a rapid increase in interest from consumers, looking to ‘do the right thing’ in recent years. Unfortunately, this has led to some funds and businesses labelling themselves as ‘ethical’, ‘sustainable’ etc without doing much in reality to back this up. The ‘ACME Ethical Fund’ may have some lovely glossy marketing and advertising making it appealing to well meaning investors, and may in its small print allow discretion for the manager to hold stocks and shares in companies and sectors that would almost certainly go against the values of its potential new customers. This practice adds needless complexity to the industry and unfortunately (but understandably) tars all funds with the same brush. We identify and screen out any fund or investment where greenwashing is apparent, through our investment process.

  • Bottom up and top down: Dealing less specifically with the world of investments and pensions, nevertheless these phrases are relevant and quite common, particularly in the press. ‘Bottom up’ pressure describes the consumer/general public looking to invest more in businesses which display ‘ethical’ values than was previously the case. As information is more quickly and easily available, and easier to check for veracity, demand for ‘non-damaging’ investments is growing. Activist groups such as Greenpeace and Avaaz, and huge new mediums for finding and sharing information such as Twitter and Facebook are driving much of this bottom up pressure. ‘Top down’ pressure is beginning to make itself felt as governments and global institutions become aware of the very limited lifespan of ‘business as usual’ and agree to implement laws and regulations which punish damaging business practices and encourage sustainability. An example of this is the scientific consensus on global warming which led to the agreements put in place at the Paris Climate Talks (COP21).

  • Stakeholder: Traditionally, businesses have existed for the benefit of their shareholders, and the conversation about whether or not a company has been successful has always been from this point of view and in relation to specific financial profit or loss for the shareholder. A ‘stakeholder’, by comparison is anyone or anything which is impacted by the actions of the company, not just those people with a personal financial investment. For example… In the UK, the taxpayer could be said to be a stakeholder of the tobacco industry, as the NHS covers the cost of treating people who have become ill as a result of smoking, or being exposed to smoke. The tobacco companies do not cover this cost, it does not make its presence felt on the balance sheet. Customers, employees, the government, the environment, and local communities could all be described as stakeholders of businesses. We look to invest in companies which consider their impact on their stakeholders, not just their shareholders.

Contact us today for a no obligation, no cost discussion about your pension or investment, or if you have any ideas or suggestions as to how we could improve our business.


Give money more purpose.
 

The History of Socially Responsible Investment

Our approach hasn't just come out of the blue; it's the logical next step in the evolution of sustainability. If you're interested, here's a whistle-stop tour of where sustainable finance has come from.

1758 – One of the first known acts of Socially Responsible Investing occurs

At their annual meeting, the Pennsylvania Quakers decided to prohibit members from participating in the slave trade. It was another group of London-based Quakers that later formed the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in order to educate the public about the inhuman and immoral treatment of slaves, and eventually bring about the abolition of the international slave trade in 1807.

1819 – The Cotton Mills and Factories Act is passed by Parliament

This was the first UK Act of Parliament that attempted to regulate the hours and working conditions of children working in the cotton industry. In isolation, the Act did little more than set a fairly unambitious and unenforceable standard. However, in context, it established the groundwork for Parliamentary intervention on conditions of employment and workers’ rights for many other subsequent Acts to follow.

1955 – Martin Luther King jr. leads the Montgomery Bus Boycott

An influential point in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was spawned from the actions of Rosa Parks, who famously refused to relinquish her seat on a bus in favour of a white man. Parks was arrested for her gesture of civil disobedience – an event which lead Edgar Daniel Nixon to plan the ensuing boycott of citywide public transport. Martin Luther King jr. was chosen to lead the boycott, elevating his status as a Civil Rights activist. This also served as a platform for his widespread and historic attempts to combat racial inequality.

1984 – Friends Provident launch the first ethically screened investment fund in the UK

In May of 1984, Friends Provident began to offer investors access to a negatively-screened investment fund which excluded tobacco, alcohol, armaments and oppressive regimes. They named it the Stewardship fund and it is still investing to this day.

1986 – Barclays Bank and General Motors (GM) prove the power of divestment by halting their   operations in South Africa

Following a decade of “divestment campaigns” among US College funds, Barclays Bank and GM became the first major corporations to cease their activities in South African markets. Other large companies soon followed suit and boycotted business undertakings in South Africa. This rapid outflow of money from the country was one of the tipping points of the anti-Apartheid movement, and ultimately led to the dismantling of the Apartheid system in 1991. 

1990 – The SRI Conference is founded and has its first annual meeting

George R. Gay organised the first conference where investment professionals in the SRI industry were able to exchange ideas and gain momentum for new positive initiatives. The conference has grown over time and consistently attracts over 500 people annually from across the US.
2004 – The largest pension fund in the World establishes ethical guidelines for investment
It was discovered that the $1 trillion Government Pension Fund of Norway was invested in some highly controversial companies — with involvement in such industries as arms production, tobacco and fossil fuels. As a result, a set of ethical guidelines were put in place to prevent investment in companies that directly or indirectly contributed to killing, torture, deprivation of freedom or other violations of human rights. A tobacco divestment followed in 2010, along with a partial-divestment from coal in 2014.

2006 – The United Nations launches their Principles for Responsible Investment

The basis of the Principles is that Environmental, Social & Governance issues (such as human rights violations or climate change) can adversely affect the performance of investment portfolios. For that reason, they should be considered by institutional investors in order to fulfil their duty to clients. The Principles saw a marked increase in signatures in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.

2007 – The U.S. Government approves the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act

The Sudanese genocide began in 2003; by 2006, it was estimated that upwards of 300,000 civilians had died as a result of the war in the region of Darfur. Drawing on the impact that divestment had upon the termination of the apartheid, the Sudan Divestment Task Force was set-up in order to emulate this success in opposing the conflict in Darfur. A year later, the U.S. Government approved the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act, encouraging state and local governments to take-up targeted divestment measures and prohibiting investment with companies operating in Sudan’s oil, power, mineral and military sectors.

2015 – The United Nations outlines their Sustainable Development Goals

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon addressed nations by saying “We don’t have any ‘plan B’ because we don’t have any ‘planet B’”. This thought guided the development of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Countries adopted the goals, aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all. Each goal has specific targets that are to be achieved by 2030. 

2017 – Purposeful.Money is formed
 

Understanding 'stranded assets'

A stranded asset is something that's worth less on the market than it is on a balance sheet.

How does that happen?

The example that always leaps to mind for us is oil. It's an asset that could be owned by a fossil fuel company but still tucked away underground as nature intended. In this case they might have discovered an oil field and have gained the extraction rights, but they still need to establish whether or not it will be profitable to drill, process and deliver the ‘asset’. Put another way, if the market price of the asset is expected to be lower than the cost involved in getting it to market, there would be no point in spending company money to extract it. The shareholders would be up in arms!

Many things can lead to an asset becoming stranded.

Subsidies are being removed, the delivery price of renewable energy plummets each year, limits are being placed on the production of fossil fuel. All of this is beginning to challenge the fossil fuel industry. We believe that this could lead to valuations on company balance sheets not being a true indication of market value from an investment point of view.

It's all good though...

Our portfolios aim to reduce the impact of stranded assets on your investment. There's a wide and expanding universe of positive investment assets out there (think renewable energy for example) delivering reliable, growing returns without damaging the environment or the underlying value of your investment.

We can review your pension or investment (for free) and check to see whether your money is currently held in any assets which could potentially become stranded. Get in touch here to get the ball rolling, and get ready to give your money more purpose!