Comment: In pursuit of greener finance

Remarkably, it feels like we have reached a point where climate change is no longer perceived to be a fringe issue.

Many institutions are dragging their feet in innovating to support what people want around climate change, Mountain says. Picture: John Devlin.

That may feel a little glib to some readers, but after years of ignoring the warnings of scientists and campaigns of misinformation and climate denial, it seems it took the intervention of the likes of Sir David Attenborough to alert us not only to the amount of plastic in our oceans, but the wider consequences of man-made climate change.

The response has been significant. Debates from government, consumers and industry about issues from fast fashion, electric cars, central heating and vegan diets, as well as more high-profile protests led by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have made climate change a mainstream political issue.

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However, the area perhaps most integral and moving more slowly is financial services. The UK Government’s Green Finance Initiative aims to provide a more joined-up look at the wider ecosystem when it comes to the industry. And investors are being given access to a business’ exposure to perceived climate risk and wider financial stability.

However, much of the focus is just the role of institutions – and many are dragging their feet when it comes to innovating to support what people want around climate change.

Scotland is developing a growing reputation as an ethical finance financial technology (fintech) hub. We held an event in Edinburgh with people keen to understand how they can decarbonise their pension or invest in schemes that benefit their community.

According to our own research, two-thirds of Scots say they take ethical considerations when purchasing financial services products, yet only one in five holds these types of products. Four in five say we need more information and education to improve awareness and understanding of ethical, green, sustainable and positive investments.

This is where the problem lies. It’s great to see asset-managers and pension schemes investing in big renewable energy schemes, but a top-down approach makes it hard to help people who want to invest their workplace pension or ISA savings in positive products. Some providers allow you to put funds in these types of investments, but where are other green financial products?

There are also many sustainable firms looking for finance from banks to help install solar energy in schools or electric vehicle charging points across cities looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Yet our experience is that many of these firms are being rejected as institutions struggle to come to terms with the new business models needed to underpin a rapid and wholesale transition to a decarbonised future.

As we heard in Edinburgh, there are people looking for something different – but if we wait for the banks to act, it may be too late.

Rachel Mountain is director at ethical investment platform Ethex