‘I’m doing my bit to create a fairer, healthier planet’: meet four ethical investors determined to make a difference

Sarah LaBrecque
·6-min read

Stereotypes die hard. A misperception persists that investors are staid men in grey suits. Even when it comes to investing in ethical or sustainable funds, many people still assume that only wealthy philanthropists have the luxury of being able to do so.

But the democratisation of investing means that these days anyone can make an informed, empowered decision about how to put their extra cash to good use. Here are four everyday investors who decided to put their money where their values are, by investing with Triodos Bank.

Karn Shah, 31
“We’re saving up for a deposit [on a house],” says Karn Shah, who lives with his wife in Bristol. “That’s a fair amount of money and if that’s sitting somewhere where it’s not doing any good, then what’s the point?” Shah says that when they started saving, about three years ago, he began doing some digging into “what the big banks actually do with your money”.

At that time he was working in an engineering capacity on flood plain risk analysis and clean air projects. Being involved in the sustainability sector meant he was already keenly aware of the climate emergency, and it felt right to put his money into something that aligned with his beliefs, personally and professionally.

At the same time, he had been attending some green community events in Bristol, where he had heard about Triodos Bank, and its ethical ethos. He and his wife decided to sign up, opening a Triodos Stocks & Shares ISA, and later a Triodos current account. The ISA was part of their long-term financial planning as they knew they could put money away for five years plus.

“I think the pandemic is a short-term shock to the system. But really, it’s the climate emergency that’s going to cause the most insecurity. So the main motivation [for joining Triodos] was to try to do something to avoid that happening.”

Sian Herschel, 43
Having spent much of her career working in funding for organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation and Comic Relief, Sian Herschel is no stranger to impact investing. These roles saw her making decisions about how charitable funds should be invested; in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, she worked on helping small-scale farmers improve the quality of their products or get a fair price. “I’m very passionate about the impact that social enterprises can have,” she says.

This interest in positive social impact spills over into her personal finances too. “For me, it’s really important to know where my money is, and how it’s being used,” she says, citing Triodos’s transparency as a key factor in her decision to invest with the bank. “That was number one in terms of criteria. The second was that I strongly believe that it’s not enough to just try to ensure that your money isn’t being used in a negative way. It’s more important and also more interesting, to be honest, to invest in positive action; in businesses that are actively not only trying to do no harm, but actually trying to do good.”

Herschel and her partner, who live in Buckinghamshire with their two boys, have a few different ISAs with Triodos, including its Innovative Finance ISA (IFISA), which can be used to hold crowdfunding investments tax free. They might use money from their Stocks & Shares ISA if they ever wanted to start a business or buy a property, or to help pay for their children’s education.

The IFISA, meanwhile, is more of a hobby for Herschel. “It’s relatively small amounts of money being invested directly in a business that interests me in some way. I can actually read their annual report and see how we’re playing a direct part in [their success]. And that really excites me.”

Fact box

Jacqui Furneaux, 70
“I used to walk past the building every day on my way to the library,” says Jacqui Furneaux, speaking about the Triodos Bank UK head office in Bristol. One day in 2014 she decided to call in, as she was interested in its ethical credentials. “It’s not a branch or anything but I didn’t understand that at the time. The woman who saw me explained everything and showed me all over the building – all the renewable and eco-friendly stuff they’ve got there. They had a display wall with goods from ethical companies that they support and I thought, this is the place, I’ll look no further.”

As a retired nurse, Furneaux feels that more of her life is behind her than ahead of her, but she is concerned about the kind of world being left to her daughters and grandchildren. Investing in causes she cares about, such as renewable energy and organic food, gives her peace of mind that she is playing a part in a fairer, healthier planet.

After retiring in 2000, Furneaux travelled the world by motorbike, and then wrote a book about her experiences, using her local library as a place to do research and to work, hence her frequent visits. It was her travels that opened her eyes to some of the world’s injustices.

“I have seen so much poverty and inequality,” she says. “I wanted to do my bit; I didn’t want to invest in arms, or tobacco, or anything that I really don’t believe in.” Furneaux has invested in the Triodos Pioneer Impact Fund and the Triodos Global Equities Impact Fund, both through a Triodos Stocks & Shares ISA, and says she may use the money to help her grandchildren one day.

Alasdair Macdonald, 72
In the early 1990s Glaswegian Alasdair Macdonald and his wife, Kate, decided they’d had enough of the mainstream banking sector. A wrangle over a simple cheque had left them with a bad taste in their mouth and, at the same time, they were keen to use their money to support ethical causes.

Related: Keen to make an impact? Five reasons why ethical and sustainable investing might be right for you right now

Macdonald was active with his local branch of Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, so was already aware of the concept of protecting the planet for future generations. When he heard about Triodos and its ethos, he decided to find out more. “I got some of their documentation and thought it was quite good,” he says. “They seemed to be doing the kinds of things we like.”

The couple were nearing retirement at the time, and had some money to invest. They decided to open a savings account, and take out a Stocks & Shares ISA with Triodos, which they saw as a positive alternative to mainstream banks.

Both Macdonald and his wife have teachers’ pensions, which they were able to retire on. But their Triodos accounts are there as a buffer for when life throws a curveball or when some rainy day money is needed.

Making a difference
Triodos Impact Investment Funds focus on driving positive environmental and societal change around the world and work hard to deliver competitive financial returns. You can invest in the funds directly or via the tax-efficient Triodos Stocks & Shares ISA.

With all investing, your capital is at risk. The Triodos Impact Investment Funds should be seen as long-term investments (five years or more), as their value can go down as well as up and you may not get back what you put in. It’s important to remember that past performance is not a guide to future returns.

The tax benefits of an ISA are subject to change and depend on individual circumstances.