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Ellie Unearths: Pensions and Sustainable Finance

by Ellie Harrison

6min read

Does any other word conjure more feelings of boredom and disinterest than ‘pension’? ‘Finance’ would probably be close. So why on earth would you read this blog on pensions and sustainable finance? Keep reading and we'll show you why.

The reality is that widespread movements rarely gain traction without finance having also shifted in line with these new ideas and pensions represent a significant part of the total amount of money invested in the UK. Renewable energy is the poster child of sustainable finance and demonstrates how a brilliant idea, with monumental implications for our planet but huge upfront development costs that would make most governments wince, can go from fringe to mainstream in 10 years - a blink of an eye in societal transitions.

an empty wallet

Where does our money go?

You’ve made it to the second paragraph, you must really want to change the world, have a beer on me. So what actually is sustainable finance? In short, it’s investing money in ideas, companies, technology or research that stands to improve our world, typically falling into either ethical or environmental buckets. It makes so much sense it’s hard to believe that, for the most part, that is not how we typically invest our money.

The thing with ‘green finance’ is that the return on investment, the money you can expect to make from backing newer technologies or products, is still considered less certain than investing in existing, established industries with proven returns. So we tend to invest in what we know and what we ‘know’ is energy comes from coal, protein comes from meat and dairy and buildings are made from cement. Many are waking up to the hugely damaging effects of these industries, but it often takes a while for this to truly reach the public psyche and by the time it does, the industry is often so dominant, it’s hard to turn the ship around. 

petrol sign

The oil example

Though that does overly simplify the situation and often there is a lot more malice and mis-direction involved. Shell and Exxon understood the impact oil could have on our atmosphere in the 1980s (the scientific community published research to support this as early as 1986), but far from addressing or even publishing their findings, what followed were years of denial, downplaying the impact, outright lying and blame shifting (link). This, paired with deep government ties to the industry and our economic dependence on oil, has made ending our relationship with oil very difficult. 40 years in and we’re still a long way from completely breaking ties. 

Is there any hope? (spoiler: yes there is)

So there tends to be a natural delay as we measure and research the impacts of new technologies, but there are additional forces working to maintain systems, meaning these damaging industries continue to win investment and grow for years after the whistle is initially blown. The first few who do shift their investment to something new and more sustainable take on the biggest risk - they stand to gain or lose the most. They’re betting against a big machine but, assuming they’re starting to see returns and / or there is mounting evidence to support that these investments will pay off in the longer term, more will follow. 

This is what we’re seeing, with ESG (environmental, social, governance) funds now ‘forecasted to outnumber conventional funds by 2025’ (link) and ‘stocks of sustainable companies are significantly outperforming their less sustainable counterparts’ (link), but there is still a lot of money locked up in more typical funds, upholding the companies doing the most damage to our planet.

solar farm

What can I do about this?

There aren’t many tangible actions to be taken from reading the above unless you’re a bank, VC or millionaire but there are a few things: 

  1. Spend with brands whose values genuinely align with your own, this helps them prove their business case and gain further investment, but this is well known (check out a list of UK B corps here)
  2. Switch your bank to one that invests more responsibly like Triodos, Cumberland Building Society, Monzo or Starling (see a comprehensive list of the best and worst here)
  3. Check where your pension provider is investing money on your behalf and, if you don’t like the look of their portfolio, move to an ethical pension
  4. Switching pensions sounds like a lot of admin, I empathise, but realistically it should only take about an hour to check which your pot and request to change which fund your money is invested in. 

piggy bank and coins

“There’s £2.6 trillion in UK pensions. This money is owned by all of us, and is invested to build our savings for the future. But from fossil fuels to tobacco, exploitation to extraction, these investments are often contradicting our values. That’s why we’re calling for our money to be invested in building a future we can be proud of, economies we can rely on, and an environment we can thrive in.” - Make My Money Matter (link)

Make My Money Matter are showing how powerful pensions are and building a movement that calls for the trillions of pounds invested in the UK to be used to build a better world. They are lobbying for action at every level - individuals, businesses, governments and industry - and their site is a great next step if you want to learn more, get involved in the campaign or are ready to move your pension!

Appendix

If you happen to have a pension with Nest the steps are as follows (assuming you don’t have your logins to hand)  - 

  1. Click ‘New to Nest? Sign up’
  2. Click ‘Log in’ under ‘Log in as a member for the first time’
  3. ‘I don’t have my nest ID’ then enter all your other details
  4. Once you’ve been sent your NEST ID to log in, the steps are:
  • Log in (you’ll be taken to your dashboard) - if you have your logins start here!
  • Scroll down to Quick Links and click ‘Additional fund choices’ under ‘Retirement Pot’
  • This will show you which fund they’ve auto-enrolled you onto
  • Press ‘switch funds’
  • Browse the list of funds and click ‘switch to this fund’ on ‘ethical fund’ (or other)
  • Follow the on-screen instructions to complete your request

They’ll email to confirm the switch in approximately 5days!

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Ellie Harrison
by Ellie Harrison

Ellie heads up all-things sustainability, making sure everything we do is as conscious as possible. She couldn’t live without volleyball, killer whales and porridge… though hopefully not at the same time. 

Read more from Ellie


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