What’s the point of saving for retirement in a world on fire?
How your pension could be your most valuable asset in the fight for climate justice.
Written by Jess Vyas, Community Team, B Lab UK
Someone probably told you while you were at school, “Your vote is your most powerful tool to ask for change.”
More recently, somebody else told you, “Vote every day. By buying from, working for and doing business with B Corps, you vote for what you believe in.”
Both statements were correct. Voting — by ballot or wallet — is a key way for each of us to demand change from an economic system which is currently failing us and our planet. But what if we’ve missed a third ingredient for real, rapid, systemic change? Pensions!
There’s £2.6 trillion invested in UK pensions. That’s £2.6 trillion of our money invested in our futures. The question is: are we creating a world we want to live in? From fossil fuels to exploitative labour practices, our investments are often contradicting our own values. After speaking to friends at Make My Money Matter, we’ve realised that where we choose to invest our pensions has an extraordinary impact on both people and the planet. In fact, according to their co-founder, acclaimed Filmmaker Richard Curtis, our pensions are actually the greatest weapon that we have in the fight against climate change and social inequality.
Richard Curtis and Pensions — an unlikely match
On Wednesday 20th April, 75 B Corp CEOs and Richard Curtis, came together to dive into this very question. That’s right: the patron saint of rom-coms believes in the power of your pension to provoke systemic change.
Richard shared that his journey to pensions began when he learnt of Bronwyn King’s, an oncologist who was shocked to discover that the four biggest holdings in her pension were all tobacco companies. She was horrified to realise that in 2018, 90% of the world’s largest pension funds were invested in tobacco just like her own, which meant she was making money off the products responsible for the deaths of many of her patients. Upon realising how easy it was to accidentally invest in destructive industries, Richard co-founded Make My Money Matter.
Make My Money Matter want everyone to have a pension they can be proud of. By engaging our employers and pension providers to take money away from the tobacco, fossil fuel and arms industries, we free up an astonishing amount of capital that could be invested in renewable energy, healthcare and reforestation industries. This people-powered mission is fighting for a world where we all know where our pension money goes, and where we demand it’s invested to build a better future.
Walking the talk
Tom Ebbutt, Managing Director of On Purpose led his team to declare a climate emergency and take action on their pensions. His company’s journey to greening their pensions began with a conversation with a chartered geologist and On Purpose fellow. Reflecting on this discussion, Tom told us:
“we’re in completely uncharted territory. There’s nothing in the Earth’s history that can tell what happens when our planet, our home’s natural systems have this much carbon dioxide, methane and other [greenhouse] gasses in the atmosphere.”
Upon engaging On Purpose’s pension provider, he learnt that this isn’t a straightforward process: pension funds lack transparency and it takes commitment to dig into the specifics of where your money is invested. But once business leaders make the shift to an ethical pension portfolio on behalf of their employees, that change is hugely powerful in the fight against climate change and social inequality. If you are a CEO of a certified B Corp and keen to learn from others on the journey, join the B Hive Group here.
We also heard from recently certified B Corp, Octopus Energy. Their Business Operations Manager, Lauren Gill, noted how important it is to engage all employees in this conversation. She told us “Pension money can be more powerful than some of the more day to day lifestyle changes that we’re making — even that was quite shocking to me.”
We couldn’t agree more with Lauren when she says, “Where you work is about more than a pay cheque. We’re all thinking more about how our employers are positively impacting society and our pensions play an important role in that.”
Whatever your position in your workplace, we’re calling on you to find out where your money is going and demand that it does better. We all need to be making investments that create the world we actually want to live in.
A first step for businesses interested in measuring their social and environmental impact is by using the free B Impact Assessment tool. Any company wishing to certify as a B Corp has its performance assessed by B Lab across all dimensions of its business. These companies are on a journey of continuous improvement to ensure business leverages its power to be a positive force in the world.