Investing in the new economy

By Chris W on October 27, 2016

With the fossil fuel divestment movement gaining increasing momentum, Sunniva Taylor, Sustainability & Peace Programme Manager, and Cait Crosse, New Economy Project Manager, turn their attention to opportunities for reinvestment.

“I have learned… that stewardship of our financial resources demands not only meticulous accounting skills but also knowledge of what our money does, and imagination in devising what it can do…”
Christine A M Davis, 2008
Quaker faith & practice 14.02

“Money” and “imagination” don’t often appear in the same sentence, but if our visions of a transformed economy – as envisaged by Friends and the QPSW New Economy Project – are to become more than fiction they will need investing in. As well as hope, time, creativity and political will, we need to invest money. To put it the other way around, when we consider the finance we control as local and area meetings, or perhaps as individuals, let’s ask the question: “how can this money help take forward our vision of a new economy in which our Quaker testimony can flourish?”. How can we reinvest at least part of the money we divest from fossil fuels into this new economy?

It is becoming increasingly common for those who are ethically concerned to use ‘ethical’ or ‘low-carbon’ investments or bank accounts. These often screen out particularly harmful investments, such as arms, pornography, or fossil fuels. This is definitely to be celebrated. But for those concerned about a radical transformation in the economy we should be aware that many of these ethical investments are still reliant on investing in large multinational companies listed on the stock exchange. They therefore remain bound up with the current growth-driven economic system, and usually make no additional ethical judgements.

For example, many of us would consider it a good thing to divest from fossil fuels and invest in a low-carbon fund. However, though reducing exposure to carbon, these funds may well still be invested in companies you have other ethical objections to. How important, for example, do you think it is that companies pay tax, or uphold labour standards, in creating the new economy? Careful consideration is needed.

You could go further than this form of reinvestment and commit to investing a proportion of your meeting’s money in the ‘new economy’: economic activities that are environmentally sustainable, create good quality local jobs, have demonstrable social benefits, and increase public and democratic control over the economy. Alongside ethical issues, meetings have to consider their financial needs, legal fiduciary responsibilities, and how accessible (‘liquid’) they need their money to be. However, this should not block investing some money in this way. In practice, this could mean:

  • Investing directly in particular UK projects, such as renewable energy. Take a look at www.abundanceinvestment.com and www. ethex.org.uk for ideas.
  • Searching out community-led projects local to you that have a share offer, or other form of investment opportunity, open. For example, a renewable energy project or a cooperatively owned sustainable housing project.
  • Consider using a local credit union. See the article on page 14 for more information.
  • In addition, you might want to think about how you use any property owned by your meeting. How could it be put to the service of growing the new economy where you are?

Exeter local meeting

Friends at Exeter Local Meeting have given financial support to three local social enterprises. The Real Food Store co-op (pictured) provides an outlet for many local food producers. Many Quakers shop there, and some supported it by buying shares, knowing that the benefits were for the local food economy.

Exeter Community Energy is a co-op that produces renewable electricity for community benefit. The meeting obtained a QPSW Sustainability and New Economy Grant to ‘pump prime’ the co-op in its early days. Several Friends also bought shares to provide the capital for its solar installations, for which they may receive five per cent interest.

Finally, Exeter Pound CIC has launched a local currency to encourage spending in local firms and create a more sustainable, resilient economy. Quakers support it by buying and using Exeter Pounds and encouraging more local traders to join the scheme.

New Economy Project

We know that much is wrong with our economic system, but what are the alternatives? And how would they work in practice?

The New Economy Project is enabling Quakers to articulate a vision of how the economy could be transformed so that it operates more in line with Quaker values. We also support Quakers to take practical action that could help to make that transformation a reality.

For more information, including copies of exploration booklets, see www.quaker.org.uk/new-economy.

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