In 2018, there are many reasons to be optimistic for a sustainable future. An increasing number of governments and organisations are embracing the UN’s sustainable development goals. Renewable energy is cheaper and easier to produce than ever before. And old economic assumptions have been thrown up in the air, completely challenging ideas like unlimited growth and consumer society.
Christiana Figueres of Mission 2020 reminded attendees by video link at this year’s Triodos Bank UK Annual Meeting: The direction towards decarbonisation is set, but we need to increase the pace.
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The financial system is at the core of this pace of change. What we invest in today will be our products, services and systems of tomorrow. To create a financial structure that unleashes a rapid and swift shift to a sustainable and fair society, two actions must take place. First, we must work with the system as it currently exists to invest in the organisations and projects that are creating change now. And second, we must use all means at our disposal to redefine the values and behaviours of the system as a whole.
This year’s Annual Meeting took a deep dive into and Triodos’s role in accelerating the transition by financing change and changing finance.
The event kicked off with a focus on how Triodos uses our customers’ money to empower changemaking organisations. A business update by UK managing director Bevis Watts highlighted that 2017 was a year of record lending for Triodos. Growth in hot-topic areas like elderly care and social housing has helped our lending have real impact in the day-to-day lives of many people. And off the back of 2017’s personal current account launch, more people in the UK know about Triodos and our model of banking than ever before.
Jellie Banga, Chief Operating Officer for Triodos Bank, summed it up: “A banking system that values diversity, sustainability and responsibility will serve the needs of real people and the real economy and not the other way around.”
To bring these activities to life, the audience met the stars of the Triodos #Changemakers campaign, with representatives from Leeds Action to Create Homes (LATCH) and Awel wind Co-op being interviewed by author and activist John-Paul Flintoff. Both LATCH and Awel are Triodos loan customers and they were able to report on the impact they have been able to create since receiving Triodos support. A recent £1m loan has allowed LATCH to create 16 new affordable housing units in Leeds and £4.5m in lending has helped Awel Co-op to create a new windfarm in southwest Wales, revitalising the local community around renewable energy.
“These stories illustrate what we try to deliver every time we engage with a customer,” said Rebecca Pritchard, head of business banking. “They show how Triodos lending can strengthen the customer and their communities, and how we can enhance the quality of life for the people that they impact.”
To cap off the session, Iain Muir of Coigach Community Development Company was invited to the stage to talk about a new form of using money for positive impact: crowdfunding. Currently raising £1.75 million for a community windfarm on the new Triodos Crowdfunding platform, Iain told John-Paul about how finance is enabling their small community of 250 people to create an economic foundation through wind energy to regenerate jobs, housing and industry in their remote area.
The Annual Meeting as a whole was designed to help people connect around the concept of sustainable finance and sustainable living. During the intermission, The Ethical Marketplace offered a chance for people to mingle, sharing inspiring stories and meeting Triodos customers and partners like Permaculture Magazine, Brocklebys Pies, Organico Realfoods, Alara Wholefoods, Zaytoun, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Positive News and Tabitha JK Hair Company. The marketplace was an opportunity for organisations to connect with each other and showcase how they are innovating to shape their respective industries.
The second session generated a broader discussion on changing the finance industry. The session was facilitated by Fran Boiat, executive director of Positive Money, a campaigning organisation that works towards democratising money and banking so that it works for society and not against it. Setting the stage for the remainder of the day, Fran suggested that banking should be about making things better for people and the planet and, ten years after the financial crash, now is the time to kick off a discussion about what finance is actually for.
Joining her in this discussion was Liz Zeidler, director of Happy City, author and broadcaster Jonathon Porritt, and Triodos director of corporate strategy James Vaccaro. Each had their own specific viewpoint on sustainability and finance, contributing to a rich and meaningful discussion.
Liz, having just launched Happy City’s Thriving Places Index, argued that where change really starts is at the level of measurement. Quoting former chief economist of the World Bank she said: “If we use the wrong measures, we will strive for the wrong things.” Her work at Happy City is to come up with the right measures—ones that take into consideration all the aspects of a thriving community. This information can then better inform governments and businesses—and especially banks like Triodos—to invest to create the future that we want.
Having been at the centre of the green movement for decades, Jonathon reminded us that we have reason to be optimistic. Renewable energy is now easy to achieve, something that was impossible to think of 10 years ago. But we must move on to the next challenges quickly. We must turn our attention from decarbonising the economy towards recarbonising the land; we must also be deeply concerned that the transition is not only green, but also fair and inclusive to all income levels.
James Vaccaro said the financial system must support these changes. Through collaboration, banks can accentuate and build upon what is already happening. This means both investing in current sustainable projects and helping to create the next wave of innovation. Banks must also eliminate the negative by truly understanding the risk of investing in carbon projects. But more importantly, they must redefine what a bank is all about. Historically banks have had neutral investment strategies, simply pursuing the highest return. But “being neutral is no longer any fun,” said James. Banks need to be helping build something useful, something positive and something that benefits people and planet for the long run.
The Triodos UK Annual Meeting has always been an opportunity to connect with like-minded people
and be drawn into a positive narrative about what money can do when it’s used correctly. This year was no exception.
Thank you to everyone who joined us, and see you next year!