Not native to this country, I have by now nonetheless lived in the UK for twenty years. Early on, a few years into my stay, my friends and I used to amuse ourselves with describing the type of society we would ideally like to live in. What would be the features that would make it the best possible society – features that would truly put GREAT back into Great Britain again?
If you want to talk the talk, you must walk the walk. Below is a highly subjective view of what I would like to see in a GREAT Britain again, as well as a promise from my side to take 17 concrete steps to being part of delivering that greatness.
Over my five years at Social Finance I have had the pleasure of coming across a vast array of inspirational social enterprises – companies whose raison d’être is more than simple profit maximisation. Profits make you sustainable as a company, but just as human beings need more than supernormal earnings to be happy, surely a company must have other aspirations than profit maximisation? Being a reformed “evil banker” at Social Finance, I now have the opportunity to be both the customer and potentially adviser for these organisations.
I will return to this challenge in 12 months’ time to see how I have scored against my pledges. My review is divided into broad areas of activity where I can exercise, as a consumer of products and services, much better civic duty, e.g. food, clothing, transport, entertainment and savings & investments.
Three decades ago, few people recycled packaging, or even newspapers. Two decades ago, few people consistently purchased Fairtrade products. Today, both of these consumer choices are mainstream. A decade from today, it is likely that most consumers will pay attention to whether their food has been sustainably farmed, and whether we should consume meat at all. My pledge for the future would be:
- Fastidiously recycle food packaging – at home and in the office
- Whenever there is the opportunity, purchase fairtrade and other ethical products to enable producer co-operatives to earn fairer prices. Going forward, I will shop coffee and tea through Cafédirect, chocolate and cocoa though Divine Chocolate, bananas and other fruit through the fairtrade mark, jams through Rubies in the Rubble and nuts through Liberation Foods.
- For sustainably farmed or even organic fruit and vegetables, there is an increasing array of suppliers (e.g. Abel & Cole, Riverford Farm). With the harvest season just around the corner, my pledge will be to eat seasonal fruit and veg: out go strawberries, in come apples, prunes and plums grown locally.
The fairtrade concept clearly extends to clothing. And in addition, I need to start recycling rags as well: not doing so is simply poor household management! I pledge to the following over the next 12 months:
- Buy at least one present from PeopleTree and from Epona, who both support badly treated textile workers or cotton farmers in developing countries.
- Buy really stylish bags and accessories presents from Elvis & Kresse, who make their products out of recycled heavy-duty fire hose!
- Recycling my family’s clothes through Oxfam.
Over the past 24 months, I have occasionally cycled to work. Now, I am hooked on biking. Biking is quicker than public transport, allows you to both save money and raise your fitness level – what is there not to like? For the real “bike-head” please check out the good work of Bikeworks CIC based in Bethnal Green, Leytonstone and Shepherds Bush.
As a cyclist, I lament the poor air quality in London. The logical conclusion is to purchase an electric car which will suit my limited driving needs perfectly. Citroen, Mitsubishi and Nissan are the leading brands as per Eco Cars. Again, what is there not to like: electric cars run perfectly adequately in city traffic, cost less to run and directly improve London’s at times poor air quality.
- 50% of the time, travel to work by bike.
- Upgrade your diesel car to an electric one.
I am really tired of switching on the telly in the evening. In a better country, I would be participating actively in cultural pursuits. So, this passivity will need to stop. My pledge going forward will therefore be:
- Stop subscribing to SKY and sell the TV, and all other unwanted gadgets and toys.
- Buy a piano and start playing again.
- Learn to play chess better.
Savings & Investments
The fairtrade movement makes clear that by making enlightened consumer choices, I can influence the livelihood of disadvantaged individuals in the value chain. The impact investment trend is making the same argument: by deploying my savings and investments differently, I can influence the way in which social problems are being addressed in the UK today. Just as I am pleased that I have purchased a fairtrade product, I can be proud to know that my savings and investments have made a positive contribution to society. My pledges for the year ahead are therefore:
- Invest my ISA allowance in a cash ISA supplied by a social lender like Charity Bank or Triodos.
- Open up a second bank account in London Plus Credit Union (formerly Hammersmith & Fulham), my nearest community-based credit union.
- Become a true 10 percenter and invest 10% of my existing portfolio sustainably; potentially through ethical IFAs Helm Godfrey, Barchester Green or Holden & Partners. Worldwise Investor, managed by Holden & Partners, has an informative list of interesting ethical portfolios to consider.
- Invest in a Retail Bond whenever a social enterprise offers some great yielding bonds. Recent past offerings have included Golden Lane Housing and Nuffield Health. Alternatively, consider putting some smaller amounts of money to work in Abundance Generation’s hydro power projects.
- Before the end of this tax year, invest in a Venture Capital Trust (VCT) focussed on environmental or social companies. ClubFinance’s website gives a comprehensive review of available VCTs.
- Invest in a Social Impact Bond (SIB) with a tax wrapper (either Enterprise Investment Scheme or, when it is available, the Social Investment Tax Relief). At Social Finance we are planning to launch a few new SIBs next year.
Will I be able to live up to Challenge Annika? Only time will tell…
By Annika Tverin, Director at Social Finance