Wednesday, November 04, 2009

UNISON Environmental Investing Seminar 2009

This was a well attended and absorbing national seminar organised for UNISON lay pension trustees, LGPS (Local Government Pension Scheme) member nominated representatives (MNR), other Pension and environmental activists.

Held in the NUT headquarters in Kings Cross it was chaired by UNISON NEC member (and Chair of National Labour Link) Steve Warwick in his usual good humoured but “let’s get on with business” no nonsense manner. National officers responsible for UNISON’s Capital Stewardship programme (Mr Colin Meech) and UNISON Green agenda (David Arnold) organised the seminar and they also spoke and took questions.

The first speaker was Ann Pettifor who is a fellow of the New Economic Foundation (NEF) who is perhaps better known for her work with the Jubilee 2000 campaign (cancelling developing world debt) and was also one of those to have predicted as far back as 2003 the recent “Credit Crunch”. Then Colin Hines from Finance for the Future and an advisor to Green MEP, Caroline Lucas.

The last speaker was Viktor Andersson from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CPD – “on behalf of 475 investors with asserts of $55 trillion”). Alan Broughall a UNISON activist MNR on the UK Environment Agency Pension Fund was unable to attend but we had a very good written report from him explaining why this fund is seen as a model of excellence.

I hope to post in the future on the specific presentations and Q&A’s. But what struck me the most are two things. Firstly on a more general point it was really good to see many of the various different strands of UNISON working together under the same roof. We had senior national and lay officers. We had activists from different service groups from all over the union and the UK. We had non union expert speakers of international standing. In a meeting chaired by the chair of our most important Political fund (IMO). All of us working together, educating each other and exchanging ideas. This was (pardon the pun) UNISON at its best.

Secondly on a more parochial basis. I was really interested to see another possible synergy from:-
1. As a quasi-Pension trustee who is aware of the need to have safe and secure sustainable investment opportunities for my fund and my trade union members who depend on their pension in their old age.
2. As a member of a pension scheme I would not want my savings to be used to harm anyone (including my fellow workers near or far and the wider society).
3. As a housing officer I am aware of the pressing need to get the money to build new homes for the overcrowded and homeless.
4. As someone concerned about the impact of climate change on society and the need to bring our housing stock up to modern energy efficient standards and provide green jobs.

This is of course my own personal opinion but surely we should be able to create investment vehicles that make it possible for our pension’s funds to invest safely in new build properties and to retrofit our existing public housing stock to modern efficiency standards. Backed by future rental yields and savings from reduced energy costs. Not only would this be sustainable it would reduce our carbon consumption and do no harm either to other workers or the wider economy. They will provide long term security for our pension funds to match future liabilities against asserts.

Win, win, win & win?

(Picture: Encouraging Green investments)

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