Opinion: how good is too good?

Green investment is now big business, and investment in a wide variety of ecologically sound assets is a common practice. This is surely a good thing, and means that at least on one level we can support the attempts to reign in climate change.

However a recent report from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has investigated 59 major solar, bioenergy and geothermal companies and concluded that only five meet its four basic criteria to protect communities and workers.

This raises the question: what exactly makes an ‘ethical’ investment? Does ethics means an approach that is grounded in the needs of a particular charity or should it be aiming to create a more equitable society overall?

The upshot is that by investing in renewable assets you might be unaware of the other issues. We accept that an organisation doing good on one level is likely to be good throughout. We cling to this view despite repeated evidence to the contrary – the world is nuanced.

One solution is to clear what matters to the charity and ignore the rest (a cancer charity might proscribe investments in tobacco, but might see itself free to invest in arms or oil, given there is no direct relationship).

This is a defendable and logical stance, but risks failing the test of public perception where once again all nuance can be lost. The Church of England investing in failing lender Wonga is an example. Conversely, trying to solve the myriad concerns of the public into perceived ‘sin stocks’ is akin to the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland – down we go and keep on falling.

The root of the issue is really one of public trust, which might not be at its highest level right now. Perhaps the answer lies in clear lines – both of policy and communication.

Mark Evans is the editor of Better Society

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