by Barry Coates
published in The Daily Blog, 8 October 2018
The tide is turning towards deeper action on sustainability. At last. The alarm bells have been ringing for many years but change is now starting to happen. It’s not soon enough to avoid damaging impacts from climate change, especially on vulnerable people in poorer countries, but we can avoid far worse chaos from further inaction.
Members of the public are also deeply concerned over the poor state of our rivers and plastics in our oceans. This is coinciding with social problems, like mental health and homelessness, and widening gaps between rich and poor in our society. There is growing recognition that we are off track. It is not only New Zealand’s clean and green image that is under threat, but also our identity. As a nation, we are proud of our natural environment and our community values – that’s who we are, for mana whenua, pakeha and for recent arrivals alike.
The good news is that there has been a step up in action, and the movement has been broadening. Bad behaviour by companies is no longer tolerated and leading businesses like Air New Zealand, Mercury and Z Energy recognise that sustainability is important for their reputation and business success. Local government is actively seeking solutions to problems of waste, water quality and transport. There are a multitude of community and NGO initiatives underway. And our new government is taking steps towards well-being rather than a narrow focus on economic growth.
I am often asked about what individuals can do. The answer is a lot. There is a huge range of individual action underway, as documented in Colmar Brunton’s Better Futures report. To quote: “Not shopping for the sake of it. Repurposing over recycling. Turning old clothes into shopping bags. Buying good quality clothes & shoes, then mending. Vege garden. Buying Oakland’s milk using recycled glass bottles. Buying locally – meat, veges, eggs, milk, bread – if we don’t produce it. Regular car maintenance, not buying new vehicles until irretrievable breakdown (considering small electric car next). Having small ‘nana’ car for work trips. Only buying new appliances on irretrievable breakdown (buying energy & water efficient replacements). Giving charitable, recycled or re-purposed gifts, & making that part of the fun. Getting materials electronically not hardcopy. Using the library. Generating our own power & hot water using PV/solar. Growing own firewood and having it heat us three times (chopping, stacking, burning). Buying minus packaging. Recycling when can’t avoid packaging. Using recycling centre first when need something for a project. Sharing resources with other neighbours. Being thoughtful.”
I do most of those things, and it is great to see the growing commitment of Kiwis across the country taking action for sustainability. But there is a huge missing element. We all know the phrase “money makes the world go round”, and finance is a powerful driver of action by individuals and institutions. So, in that list above, where is the action on money?
It’s not there. Perhaps one of the reasons is that we have come to regard the use of money as being separate to our values. Investments are often perceived to be a way to earn a return, but disconnected from our approach to the rest of our life. Perhaps that’s why we have ended up with climate change campaigners owning Kiwisaver accounts that invest in companies like Exxon-Mobil. Most New Zealand investors do not exclude companies that profit from gambling, pornography, human rights abuses, etc.
There are choices, and investors can invest responsibly to align their money with their values, and send a strong signal to the deeply unsustainable companies that profit from exploitation and pollution. And earn a good return. Mindful Money has been set up as a free access platform to provide information and make it easy for Kiwi investors to invest responsibly. Sign up to help test our new platform!
Founder and CEO of Mindful Money