In my post of 12 April 2020 (How long is this sustainable for?) I promised a series of mini-blogs to highlight stories about companies that see the link between the sustainability of their business and that of the planet. I’m giving myself free rein here to look at anything from what big, grown-up companies are doing to get with the programme, to young, earnest start-ups with ground-breaking ideas – and all that comes in between. Happy reading!
A sustainable story for today: Walking on solar panels
As ministers from around the world gathered around their computer screens at the end of April for the annual Petersburg Climate Dialogue (intended to be held in Glasgow this year – not confusing at all then), there was much talk of seizing the day. For example, in the UK we haven’t used any coal to make our electricity for over a month and energy generated from renewable sources such as wind has overtaken that from fossil fuels for the first time because a) lockdown has slashed demand and b) apparently it’s been very windy. We know this is only temporary, but still, can we not keep it up?
Today’s story highlights the sort of innovation in this area that will need investment if we are to continue to shun the dirty stuff in favour of the clean.
A small company called Platio Solar based in Budapest, Hungary is making solar panels you can walk on. And whilst you might not fancy a stroll down the side of your west-facing semi any time soon, it’s really useful for pavements. Or driveways. Or electric car charging stations. If you’re wondering how you can park your car on these panels without them breaking, they are fixed in a material made from recycled plastic bottles that apparently is stronger than concrete.
Stories stick with us
‘Investment in infrastructure’ is one of those dull-sounding phrases without any real colour. It has a ‘long-term’ ring to it – like something only the government can do (if it stays in power long enough, that is). So we feel detached – unable to match the thinking with the here and now. But stories about walkways with embedded solar panels powering whole shopping centres – or playground benches where you can charge your phone while your children play – stick with us.
Earnest soundbites and positive intention
I listened to the video ‘summary’ that was released from the Petersburg Climate Dialogue. Not so much a summary as a collection of earnest soundbites from representatives of the nations who attended, all singing from the same green hymn sheet. A passing Martian would have got the distinct impression that all Earthlings were mighty serious about reversing the effects of climate change and, with so much positive intention, how could we possibly fail?
Money is power
And yet the coverage of these events is often negative – who wasn’t there, how previous targets have been missed, how much CO2 was emitted getting everyone around the table (not so this year, LOL). Engage us! Tell us stories that make us see that there are innovators out there who are starting to provide solutions. Get us wondering where the money in our pension or ISA is invested and make us demand these questions of financial advisers, online providers, banks and building societies. After all, money – along with sun, wind, waves and something called biomass (sounds yuk) – is power.
13 May 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
All opinions are those of Carole Haswell and do not constitute financial advice
PS: Talking Finances With Women
I’ve a feeling that there is going to be a whole lot of marketing aimed at women around sustainable investing. As ever, there will be a gulf between the promotions coming from on high and the position of non-investors on the ground with questions like: Is this for me, how does it work and why might I need it? This is where I think financial advisers, planners and commentators can all step up, but I also believe it will be stories like these that get us interested in the first place. If you are inspired to take this further, please see ‘A bit more understanding’ below.
A bit more understanding
These Sustainable Investment mini blogs are not about providing investment tips. The point is to flag to you the sort of projects that professionals who invest sustainably keep an eye on. Generally speaking, ordinary folk investing on their own behalf would not be encouraged to invest directly in companies, but to use funds made up of a number of different companies. This way, we can pool our resources and spread out our risk.
The professionals who manage these funds (imaginatively known as fund managers) have exams coming out of their ears and do tonnes of research into the companies they invest in so that you don’t have to. After all, you wouldn’t want to bet your house on a single company that is doing great things as its core business only to find out that it has a side hustle in selling pandas into slavery.
You can think of different kinds of funds like Russian dolls, starting with the ‘company’ at the centre:
- The company – an investment in a company could be shares that pay dividends and go up or down in value; or a bond where the company ‘borrows’ money for a set amount of time in return for a fixed amount of income
- A fund (aka collective investments such as a unit trust, OEIC or investment trust) – a fund manager chooses the companies they want in their fund. A sustainable investment fund manager would invest in companies that tick the right boxes on environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters
- Multi-manager fund – this is another layer of management that puts together a number of funds as a single fund. In a sustainable investment multi-manager fund, the funds chosen would be investing in companies that meet ESG principles
- Managed portfolio – a financial adviser or investment manager can put together a collection of funds to suit a particular level of risk and investment preferences (such as sustainable). Unlike the multi-manager funds, the client holds a number of funds, not just one – you would generally seek financial advice for this sort of investment. The manager would make changes to the portfolio (ie switch in or out of funds) either after consulting with the client (called ‘advised’) or at their discretion (called ‘discretionary’)
The funds and portfolios on offer within sustainable investing are growing. Advisers, planners and other financial professionals will be learning about the options available as we go along. If you are new to investing, a good place to start is https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/savings/investment-beginners/ or https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/categories/how-to-invest-money. Here you will find helpful guidance and suggested websites where you can do your own investing. More information on the sustainable options is also provided.
Alternatively, please feel free to talk to us about your circumstances at Talking Finances.
Talking Finances is a trading name of Talking Finances Ltd. Talking Finances Ltd is an appointed representative of Beaufort Financial Planning Limited, Kingsgate, 62 High Street, Redhill, Surrey, RH1 1SH, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, FCA Registration No. 583233