Guest blog by Anna Laycock, Communications and Research Manager at Ecology Building Society.
Once upon a time, a group of people got together and decided to change the world…
You’ve probably heard a few stories that start like this. But I bet they didn’t involve a building society.
In 1981 at a Green Party conference, a member complained of the difficulty he had in finding a mortgage to renovate a derelict house. Someone asked 'Why don't we start a building society?' and Ecology was formed. Ten people clubbed together, put in £500 each, and started something special. Where the conventional lenders saw risk, Ecology saw the potential for environmental gain.
We’ve come a long way from our early days in a terraced house in West Yorkshire. Today we manage assets of over £100m and have over 8,000 members. But some things haven’t changed. We’re still based in West Yorkshire, a result of our commitment to the local economy and doing our bit for the North-South divide – but these days we operate from a dedicated eco-HQ, complete with green roof and straw bale meeting room.
Most importantly, we’re still absolutely committed to our mission: building a greener society. We support properties and projects that benefit the environment and create sustainable communities, funding our lending through a range of straightforward, ethical savings accounts.
So far, so feelgood. But have we really changed the world? I think so.
For a start, many of the 2,000+ properties we’ve funded could not have gone ahead without our help – no one else would lend on them. We’ve supported people to bring tumbledown buildings back into use, build pioneering eco-homes, expand their organic smallholdings, set up sustainable housing co-operatives, and shrink the carbon footprint of their leaky homes.
We’ve done more than that, though. We’ve shown that it’s possible to run a financial institution based on ethical principles and an environmental mission – and not just survive, but prosper.
In fact, money can’t help but change the world. What we do with it matters. Where we direct our lending is where activity happens, things are made, and industries grow. At Ecology, we think it’s important to direct our money to the changes we want to see in the world: a green economy, affordable homes, biodiversity, conservation of resources, a stable climate, human wellbeing. If money is a symbol of value, then we need to value the things that matter.
That’s why we’ve joined the Forum for the Future Network. We share a belief that finance should be about long term value, not short term profit. We agree that there’s more to wealth than money. We’re living proof of the idea that the financial system can be different. Working with Forum for the Future, we want to change the world all over again.
Anna Laycock is Communications and Research Manager at Ecology Building Society. This is a guest blog. The views expressed are those of the author, and are not necessarily endorsed by Forum for the Future.
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