In 2020 we’ve all had to make changes – for the most part distinctly unwelcome ones – to where we go, who we can see, even what we might expect to find in the supermarkets.
Still, change can be positive, so it’s good to stop and consider how small steps can add up to a better future. In November, the government confirmed its long-rumoured plans to ban all new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. With President-elect Joe Biden also making immediate plans to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, the tail end of this year has offered some surprising rays of hope.
Those of us who can are still working from home. In a sense it feels like we’re living through a pause in reality, but now’s a good time to make some easy changes that will make for a more sustainable future, and will stand us in good stead when we do go back to the office.
Full disclosure – since lockdown began I’ve been walking a lot more and I’ve rediscovered the bike. I’m about to throw some numbers at you, but while this might seem like pedalling my own success (excuse the pun), I promise there’s more to this article.
What I’ve learned by walking and cycling is the magnitude of good that it’s possible to do for your own health, while giving the planet a breather. Since March, my Garmin (other brands are available) tells me that across 372 activities and over 462 hours, I’ve covered 6,798 kilometres, ascended 85,343 metres and burned close to 200,000 calories.
As Radiohead once said, ‘Fitter, happier, more productive’. But there’s more to it than that. For perspective, the average car puts out 127.9 grams of CO2 per kilometre. By cycling I saved 869.49 kilos, or as my son pointed out, ten trips up Everest and nearly a tonne of CO2 saved.
I know it doesn’t work for every occasion – you’d be hard-pushed to do the big monthly shop at Sainsburys on your bike. But there are many times that we all hop in the car and make a journey that could be just as easy (and probably more enjoyable) on foot or in the saddle. It’s not about big single gestures, it’s about long-term gains… there’s an investment allegory there.
Ditch the plastic
There are still people who remain irritated about the 5p charge for plastic carrier bags. I know, it’s fiddly and annoying and it can seem pedantic. But here’s a sobering thought – every piece of plastic ever produced still exists, and will still be kicking around for the next 500 years.
Some single-use plastic can be recycled, but huge amounts can’t be. Back in the 90s when recycling labelling became widespread, many products were marked ‘Not yet recycled’, and here in 2020, many of them still aren’t. Food items come wrapped in film, net bags and black plastic containers. But it’s almost always the case that buying loose items will work out cheaper (because you’re not paying for the packaging) and by bringing your own bags you can make for a plastic-free shopping trip.
Can’t find unpackaged items? It’s not always possible, but if you’re lucky enough to have local high street shops, a farm shop or a market, use them. They’re probably struggling a bit at the moment, so we could all be helping out while shunning the plastic.
Get food conscious
Must have strawberries in the middle of winter? Saved a few pence on mangos flown in from Brazil? It’s a wonder of the modern world that we can have whatever we want whenever we want it, but it’s not good for the planet. Food, its production and the transport thereof, racks up more than a quarter of global greenhouse gases each year, so it’s worth choosing food that’s in season and local.
Then there’s meat – “I don’t like where this is going Clinton”. I’m not a vegetarian and I’d never threaten your bacon sandwich or your roast dinner, but that said, in the spirit of small changes, there’s middle ground between ‘flat out’ and ‘not at all’. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , total emissions from global livestock comes to 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent per year. What’s a gigatonne? It’s a billion tonnes.
Now, I’ve been known to eat half a gigatonne at a single barbecue, so I don’t say this lightly, but there are lots of good meat substitutes (not to mention countless meat-free recipes) that could make swapping one meal a week a good experiment.
Do without fast fashion
Fashion you say? We’ve been working in our pyjamas for months! Tidying-up guru Marie Kondo employs the decluttering tactic of considering whether an object is useful or brings you joy. Then there’s the approach of putting all your hangers the same way around – if you wear something, put it back with the hanger pointing the other way, then after six months see what you actually wore.
To extend that minimalist approach, cheap fashion may make us happy for a few minutes but it hangs around long after we put it out of sight and out of mind. In 2014 we bought 60% more clothing than in 2000, but each item stayed with us only half as long. They leave our wardrobes, not through the back route into Narnia, but through the front into landfill. And still more is produced, according to one study , fashion is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Again, we don’t have to go from fast fashion to wearing a hair shirt. These days we can find clothing made from sustainable materials, from manufacturers that pay attention to welfare. They may cost a little more, but will last longer than the super-quick bargains we’ve come to expect. A wardrobe made up of fewer, better choices can go much further than one stuffed full of throw-away fashion. In the long-run it’s easier on the wallet, easier on the eye and easier on the planet.
Finally, explore sustainable investment
As I’ve said, making a difference is about the long game and nowhere is this more pertinent than in investing. Earlier this year we told you about our new ESG portfolios , built with a view to helping investors make positive changes without derailing their whole way of life.
There was a time when ‘sustainable’ meant ‘compromise’, but not any more. To be an ethical investor is not to ‘give something up’. In fact, ethical investing can be a way to make small changes that tackle the really big issues. It’s not uncommon for sustainability fatigue to set in, even with the best intentions – “why am I cycling to work, panniers packed with jute tote bags and bamboo keep cups when countries like China and the USA are pumping out vast quantities of carbon?”
A fair point, but while I stand by those small changes, building a sustainable investment portfolio allows individual investors to play a part in helping to determine long-term global trends – to send a message about what’s worthy of investment and what isn’t. You may or may not take on my other tips – more bikes, less bacon – but if you’re serious about sustainability we can help. We’d love to introduce you to our sustainable portfolios and how to invest in the planet’s future as well as your own.