top of page

ETHICAL INVESTMENT - Part 2 = Pensions

Updated: Apr 29


Our pensions are destroying the planet – here’s how we can use them to secure our future.


Currently, there is around £3 trillion of public money in the UK alone, allocated to ‘pension funds’. For those of us who may not be aware yet, a pension fund is a collection of money that is invested in companies to drive their operation and expansion, with the aim of making a financial return for the investor. In an ideal world with unlimited resources, no collateral damage or victims exploited, this would seem like a workable and ethical model enabling the growth of one’s savings in line with inflation.



However, as we all know, most corporations are irreversibly gouging out parts of our planet in order to transform, sell and profit from them, at a rate that is impossible to fathom. These ‘parts’ are our planet’s life-support systems, that are keeping us all alive and breathing - you, me, the other 8.1 billion human beings and the 200 million other species we share this world with. These systems include:


- rainforests that are burnt down for grazing land or cut down to extract minerals or raw materials

- oceans that are trawled to extract all traces of marine life, or mined for oil and gas

- vital freshwater for monocropping, or wasted on washing corpses or blood from slaughterhouses

- fertile soil degraded with artificial fertilisers and poisoned with pesticides

- clean air polluted with ammonia, methane and nitrous oxide, in turn accelerating global warming




Not to forget the countless sentient victims exploited by certain businesses, using them as slaves and labourers, namely:

- the trillion individuals forcibly bred, used and killed by the meat, dairy and fishing industries every year,

- the millions of people forced to work with little or no pay, and

- the billions going hungry and thirsty, as a result of land grabbing and unjust distribution of food and water.


(photo by SCMP pictures)


Most of us would never want our life-savings to fund suffering and death, and take away the very resources needed for our survival in the future. And yet, here we are in 2023, none the wiser, and in fact hastening our collective demise.


In light of the above and the need for clarity in direction, an ethical investment is one that enables the protection of Earth’s inhabitants and their respective homes, secures our collective future, and causes the least amount of direct and collateral damage in the processes it funds.




The basics about ‘pensions’


With so much at stake, it is important to understand the fundamentals of pensions. Basically, there are 3 types in the UK – state, workplace and personal. In the latter category, you can invest in a pre-made fund (with companies already chosen for you) or a SIPP (self-invested personal pension, allowing you to choose your own investments).


Understandably, SIPPs come with added complexity, even though they are flexible. The workplace pension is chosen as default for all employees of a particular company, and the state pension is the one provided by the government.


The pension providers themselves either actively manage your investments, or indirectly manage them by following stock market indexes, or enable investments into external funds.



Challenges


Here’s the good news – through our pensions and savings, we have inadvertently become owners of vast chunks of the world’s biggest companies. Slowly realising the impact of pension funds, there has been significant flow of funds over the recent years, into more ethical investments.


Inevitably, attempts have arisen to mislead the public on the issue, described in one word as ‘greenwashing’. Amongst the mountain of conflicting information out there, it is Ethical Consumer Magazine that is leading the way in cutting through the jargon and present more ethical options to the public. - https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/ethical-consumer-magazine



The first challenge – Advertising


The big financial institutions possess the clout and know-how to put their name forward in popular culture. For example, Vangaurd, the world’s second largest asset manager, was top-rated by Which? for value for money and customer satisfaction. And yet, it invested $184 billion of investments and pensions into companies developing new fossil fuel projects, it was the fifth biggest investor in mining companies tearing up the Amazon rainforest and it ranked top in funding nuclear weapons (as reported in Ethical Consumer Magazine 202).



The second challenge – Wording


‘ESG’ is a term, in my opinion, that is being misused by countless companies to attract the investments of well-meaning customers. It stands for ‘environmental, social and governance’ and is a great tool to highlight the impacts that investments have on people and the planet. However, due to widespread greenwashing, we now find funds that include Amazon and Coca-Cola, labelled as ‘ESG’.


‘SRI’ (or socially-responsible investing) deliberately excludes funding into obviously damaging companies like weapons manufacturing and tobacco. However, that does not mean that these funds actively strive to invest in more ethical businesses. Coming across such terms, therefore requires further scrutiny and search for more actively impactful options (revealed further on in this blog).



It is also becoming inescapable to avoid the term ‘net-zero’. The media, conferences, businesses and political organisations are all using it in their messages and policies, and yet most of them are clueless about what that really means. Predominantly, it has been used to denote a time when anthropogenic carbon emissions will equal the carbon sequestered.


Their solution? Replace coal, oil and gas power with renewable sources like wind and solar, make homes more energy efficient and transition to electric vehicles - in the hope that this will address the increasingly devastating climate emergency we find ourselves in today. This reinforces public opinion because we have been taught to believe that burning fossil fuels is the main cause of global warming. But here’s the crux of it - by focusing on fossil fuels alone, we will never achieve ‘net-zero’ (explained in the next section).


Secondly, achieving ‘net-zero’ should not be the aim, if we want to attain the most optimistic scenario of global climate breakdown. We need a net-negative carbon-based scenario, when we are drawing down more CO2 than what we are producing. This is because CO2, once released, stays in the atmosphere for centuries, significantly warming the air and oceans as it lingers. So, the sooner we can draw the excess down, the better. And that means going beyond ‘net-zero’.


Thankfully, this scenario is possible – and it starts with realising the main causes of the climate and ecological emergencies.




The third challenge – Not knowing what is really killing the planet


In reality, fossils fuels are a small part of the climate conundrum and therefore a small part of the solution. It has been calculated that all forms of transportation combined, emits around 15% of man-made global greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, while we carry on focusing on a full transition to fossil-free transportation and renewable energy (still at least 2 decades away), we are only addressing a small part of the problem. In the meantime, the forests continue to burn, the oceans and lakes continue to die, droughts and deserts carry on spreading, low lying habitats carry on drowning and species are lost forever, with no end in sight. All because we have been barking up the wrong tree.


The real villain in the climate breakdown saga is the animal agriculture industry, spewing out meat, dairy, eggs, fishes and other animal-death products to a distracted human population. It is responsible for 51-87% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to being the biggest cause of rainforest destruction, ocean death, species extinction, human food shortages, air and water pollution, soil depletion, freshwater loss, antimicrobial resistance and pandemics.



(Photo by Farm Transparency Project)


And here’s why - together with the CO2 respired by the trillions of victims of this murderous industry, it is the methane and the nitrous oxide produced by enslaved cows, sheep and goats, that are accelerating the heating of our atmosphere and oceans. When it is released, methane has the global warming potential 120 times that of CO2, while nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful. And yet, these two gases are hardly mentioned by climate policies.


The meat and dairy industries are currently exploiting more than 45% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface. This was all once pristine forests and natural habitats, now lost forever, together with most of their ability to absorb carbon back into the earth. Finally, the fishing industry is extracting every individual it can hunt from the ocean – 2-3 trillion beings every year. This genocide is crippling the oceans’ ability to sequester CO2 – living oceans can store 50 times as much carbon as the entire atmosphere.


(Photo by the Kaist Herald)


Now, it is easy to see that even if we had the capability of shifting to renewable energy overnight and completely abstaining from using fossil fuels, we would still not have made a significant dent in solving the existential crises, that are threatening our collective present and future. Not unless we urgently address the ‘farmed’ animal overpopulation, the related deforestation and the killing of our oceans.



The fourth challenge – misinformation and gaslighting


The animal agriculture corporations and those who fund it, know the truth about how devastating their businesses are to the planet and those who inhabit it. They see it firsthand – the razing of the rainforests, the screams in the slaughterhouses, and manure flowing into pristine rivers. But in their myopic and selfish worldview, only profits matter.


Their first, most powerful weapon is societal ignorance – keeping the facts out of the public’s radar. When that is bypassed by some, they bring out misinformation to confuse the populace. A perfect example is the concept of ‘regenerative’ animal farming, whereby ‘researchers’ are paid by the industries, to publish claims that allowing animals to graze in native ecosystems is somehow beneficial to the environment. As if displacing native species and allowing cattle, sheep and goats to trample and overgraze million-year-old grasslands and prairies, generating methane and nitrous oxide in the process, while polluting the soil and water, can ever be considered a ‘solution’ to the climate crisis? And yet people fall for this.


The other classic belief ingrained after years of propaganda is that ‘animal protein’ is needed for optimum human health. Time and time again, this has been debunked by health professionals globally – fundamentally, all macro and micronutrients are found in plant-based foods and the soil – that’s how the ‘farmed’ beings obtain their nutrition.


Lastly, when the meat and dairy industry are condemned for their multi-level destruction, they deny it all, protest innocence and complain that their jobs are being attacked. The industry lobbyists are powerful enough to influence ministers and the police to lock up peaceful protesters without trial. These are people who are desperately trying to be heard when petitions and letters have fallen on deaf ears of self-centred politicians.




The fifth challenge – The workplace pension scheme


To join or not to join a workplace pension is still the choice of the employee. However, the scheme is set up in such a way that employers are required to contribute to your ‘pot’ if you decide to pay into it. This encourages employees to join it, but they then lose the option to decide which pension to invest their hard-earned money in - unless they are able to effectively communicate and convince their employer to shift to a more ethical option.





The monetary solution


Therefore, it is up to us – the everyday people – to realise how much power we have to influence the status quo, by making conscious decisions regarding the money we save and invest. Because it is our collective expenditure, savings and investments that is making the world go round. Nearly £3 trillion when it comes to how much is invested in pensions. That is what is driving the machine of destruction while we sleep at night, even though most of us would never wish it. All because so far, we have unconsciously invested in companies and pensions, motivated only by the bottom line, without ever considering what our money is funding and breaking in the process.


Contrastingly, research by Make My Money Matter indicated that shifting an average-sized pension pot, from a conventional investment fund to a sustainable one, could save 19 tonnes of carbon a year. The same research showed that greening your pension is 21 times more effective in cutting your carbon than giving up flying and switching to a renewable energy provider combined.


Basically, we want our investments to make a positive impact in the world with the aim of generating a financial return – this is defined by the term ‘impact investing’. Moreover, suitable impact investing can outperform regular investment decisions – recent studies revealed that impact investment funds outperformed the S&P 500 Index by 15%, according to an analysis by researchers from the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.


The impact could be environmental, social, political or technological, and as impact investors, we can support companies addressing some of the planet’s largest challenges – everything from climate breakdown and conservation, to housing and healthcare.



My journey



Step 1 – Realising how destructive my pension is


Again, I have to thank Ethical Consumer Magazine for making me realise this and subsequently guiding me through the jargon, to understand a little bit more about quite possibly the largest investment I am making in this life. They analysed the policies of different pension providers, to discover how ‘ethical’ they really are. They measured each one according to how their investments aligned with climate change, pollution, habitat and resource loss, factory farming, human rights, arms and military supply, and tax conduct.

See https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/money-finance/shopping-guide/ethical-pensions to find out how your current provider stacks up.


They found out that several of the ‘responsible’ or ‘sustainable’ pension plans, did not stay true to their word, heavily investing in fossil fuels, mining and significantly polluting companies.


Therefore, when searching for a suitable fund, start by asking questions like:

- Is this pension investing in killing animals and our planet?

- Is it transparent about its activities?

- Does it make it simple for you to access which companies they fund?

- Does it exclude carbon-intensive sectors?

- Do you need to seek advice from an ethical financial adviser?




Step 2 – Finding the gold standard


After some research guided by the questions above, I came across exactly what I was looking for – a company that made it easy to invest in other companies building a better world, while providing complete transparency about where our hard-earned money was being invested. NEST ETHICAL FUND came out on top in the recommendations. So, I decided to make sure that it does exactly what it says on the tin.


Visiting the website revealed the following:

-          It was available as a workplace pension and for self-employed individuals

-          It showed exactly which companies the fund is investing in

-          It avoided investing in companies that own oil, gas and coal reserves, those that engage in mining, or those that tested cosmetics on animals

-          It wished to invest in companies that worked to reduce their carbon-intensive footprint, developed solutions such as renewable energy, had strong environmental policies, looked after biodiversity and the environment, and cared for the world’s water supply.

 

The caveat


Next, I checked out each of the 40 companies the fund invests in via their easy online investment tool - https://transparency.platform.tumelo.com/nest/75a1a740-504d-4350-8dfd-35508c9a2b26 .


Thankfully, none of the companies were involved in animal agriculture/farming. This filled me with hope, because every other pension I was able to investigate so far, involved investments in animal enslavement. Instead, Nest’s Ethical Fund focused on finance, healthcare, retail. All well and good, until I discovered that one of the companies was Astrazeneca PLC.


This is what Astrazeneca’s website revealed about testing on animals:

“The use of animals in research is a small but vital part of the process of bringing new medicines to patients. Although advances continue to be made in non-animal alternatives, some animal studies remain necessary to explore and understand fundamental science, as well as to establish the safety and efficacy of new medicines before they reach patients.

In 2022, animals were used for in-house studies approximately 100,803 times (2021: 93,511). Animals were also used on our behalf for contract research organisation studies approximately 55,455 times (2021: 58,826). In total, over 98% were rodents or fish.”

 


Photo by Roger Kingbird/ We Animals Media


In response, Dr Andre Menache BSc (Hons) – a zoologist, veterinary surgeon and Chairman of the Animal Interfaith Alliance, penned an open letter to Astrazeneca (see here - https://animal-interfaith-alliance.com/open-letter-to-astrazeneca-and-glaxosmithkline-urging-the-use-of-non-animal-testing-methods-to-further-human-health/). It states that testing on animals is outdated, unreliable and therefore completely unjustifiable. It included several examples of other leading pharmaceutical companies, who were already on the path to replacing animal testing with much more reliable and relevant human-based research.


The technology already exists, therefore Astrazeneca have no excuses to carry on imprisoning and torturing thousands of sentient beings every year.

Therefore, it is up to us to carry on pressurising Astrazenica to align itself with moral progress, by sending the above letter to the company’s CEO, and sending a copy to your local councillors, MPs and DEFRA. The hard work of writing it is already done, we just have to personalise it and send.


From the other side, we need to pressurise NEST to either communicate with Astrazenica to drop their outdated, unjustifiable torture, or drop them from their portfolio of companies if they refuse to change.


As you can see, there is a lot we can do to make changes happen in favour of justice, ethics and a sustainable world. The alternative of doing nothing, changes nothing. And companies and corporations carry on destroying our planet and our future, with our own savings. We hold the power, we fund them – not the other way round.


To find out more about Andre Menache's life journey and purpose, check out my podcast episode below.



In conclusion


All invested pension funds come with the risk of not growing as much as we would expect. On the flip side, the consequence of not topping up the pension annually is a hefty tax bill from the government. Then, we might as well invest it in the most ethical place possible - one that may help contribute to securing a liveable future for us all.


The main reason for this researched blog is to make the transition as easy as possible for you, to effectively invest in healing our broken world. It is work in progress from a concerned human being who is well aware about how urgent the situation is, regarding our sustainability on this planet.


In return, I ask you to be on the lookout for similar ethical initiatives and platforms, share that information with your colleagues, and inform me about them to facilitate sharing with wider audiences.


My email addresses are


My next blog will focus on the workplace pension, and how to ‘ethicalise’ it.

108 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page