Every once in a while I get asked about investment in renewable energy and clean technology. Investing isn’t something I know much about, especially if we’re talking about serious funds. I can tell you what I’ve done with some of our savings. It’s important to me that the money that we have as a family is working for good. We’ve tried to use ethical banks for our current account and savings, but avoiding unethical investments is one side of it. Even better would be to know that our money is actively funding the world that we want to see.
With the caveats that this isn’t financial advice and I’m making it up as I go, here are a handful of ways I’ve tried to put my money to work in the world.
First, there are a handful of platforms for crowdfunding investments, and some of have specialised in ethical investment. One that I’ve used is Abundance Investment, which raises capital for renewable energy projects and social housing in Britain. These vary in length, sometimes locking in money for up to 20 years and paying a regular return, sometimes on a shorter time frame. They post a handful of projects a year and don’t always have a live offer, so sign up to their email newsletter to keep up to date. Through them, I’ve been able to put some of our savings into wind power in Yorkshire, social housing in Liverpool, and into Orbital Marine, the world’s most powerful tidal power system.
(There’s a model of the Orbital Marine ocean turbine in the Museum of Scotland, and I took the kids to see it. I told them that we’re investors, and that we paid for a tiny piece of it. They wanted to know which piece. I said it doesn’t really work like that, but perhaps there was a very small component we could imagine was ours. After some discussion, we decided we’d like the on button.)
Another platform I’ve used is the Energise Africa programme. They fund companies delivering small scale solar solutions in Africa. I like this one because it’s addressing energy access at the same time as climate change. You can invest from £50 upwards, so it’s impact investment that is open to anyone. I have a portfolio with projects in Kenya, Tanzania, the DRC and Mali, providing solar power, solar fridges and irrigation. I try to support locally owned companies where possible. Again, you’ll want to subscribe and keep an eye on this one.
Energise Africa approximates their investors’ impact, and from your portfolio you can see how many people you have helped and the cumulative total of emissions avoided. This means you can use the platform for informal offsetting if you are so inclined. I’ve been using Energise Africa for a few years now, and we’ve helped over 100 people to get solar power.
The Energise Africa investment platform runs on Ethex.org.uk, which is a third option for making microinvestments. They offer a much broader range of projects, including transport, fairtrade businesses and community enterprise. I haven’t used them yet, though I would like to at some point.
You might also want to look at community energy. If you’re lucky you might have a scheme that you can invest in locally, though it’s much harder to set one up than it should be. Until there’s one in Luton, I’m a member of Brighton Energy Coop and MaidEnergy.
These are all small investments in specific projects, and don’t make me a shareholder. Equity investment is another thing altogether, and not something that I am involved in beyond a nominal stake in some companies that I really like – the publisher Unbound, off-grid lighting specialist Deciwatt, and the transparent solar PV company Polysolar.
Those are a few things I’ve experimented with. I’d be interested to hear what suggestions you might have, and please throw in any non-UK based platforms that are worth investigating for international readers.