Just a year or two ago, all we’d hear was green this and ethical that. But are financial pressures now forcing us to forgo our environmental principles and make financial choices purely on who offers the best deal?
Climate change funds, paper-free bank accounts, ethical policies, environmental funds and green energy tariffs – green was cool, ethical was hip.
But as budget cuts kick in, savings rates stay shockingly low and lending rates high, it’s gone a bit quiet on the eco and ethical front. So can we afford to care?
Financial times are changing
A Which? Money survey earlier this year showed that 42% of members would accept a slightly lower rate of return on their investments if they knew the provider was investing ethically.
But as we enter National Ethical Investment Week on Sunday I’m not convinced this is still true. As we all have to tighten our belts, can we afford to take a hit on our wallet in order to act ethically?
The position is probably most stark with products like carbon offset. A couple of years ago it was all the rage. But unlike green banking or ethical investing, carbon offset has a clear price tag with no financial return for the consumer.
When I investigated the carbon offset market for a Which? report last year, my initial scepticism gave way to an acceptance that we need to take individual responsibility for our impact on the environment. But I admit, my environmental principles would be at risk of going out of the window if I had to make significant cuts to my spending.
Do your bit in your own way
My own answer is to separate the two issues. One of my passions is the preservation of forests and woodland. So I support offset projects in this area, splitting my donations between two of my favourite charities – the Woodland Trust working in the UK and the World Land Trust preserving the rainforest.
As for my finances, I’ll be hunting for the best returns on my savings and investments. If a provider with a clear ethical policy (such as Co-operative Bank) comes out top on rate, then great.
If not, I’ll be chasing the highest rate and putting my efforts into reducing my environmental and social impact in ways that don’t cost me cash, whether that’s through Amnesty International’s urgent action network, donating old clothes to charity or simply making more effort to recycle.
I’m still open-minded though – if you’ve found an account or a fund that both beats the market and leaves you with a clear conscience, we’d love to hear about it.