International financial institutions are a part of our lives we may feel unable to control. We generally need bank accounts, pensions, savings and mortgages to get by in a system built on debt that encourages debt and ties us into it*. This system is not the fault of the individual; it is systemic. Many banks use our invested money (be it in pensions, savings, insurance or current accounts) to invest in systems we may fundamentally disagree with. Profiteering from international arms, nuclear weapons, destructive oil and mineral extraction (fracking, tar sands oil, coal), rainforest destruction and excessive pay gaps are likely on the lists of most of our financial investments, even if we do not know it. Would you invest directly in these given the choice? This article empowers a choice and does not ask for much.
How can the individual change the system? A lot of my work is about empowerment; taking back control of the systems in which we live to the extent we are able. Sometimes this means honing in on local systems and being the change we wish to see right there in our gardens, homes and the systems we support (or choose not to support) in our bioregions.
Empowerment is first about boundaries. Where in the system are we able to create change? What is beyond our power/control? When we disable the noises that distract us from attainable action we come to realise that we have a lot of power. In allowing what is beyond us to slip out of mind we can actually begin to enact radical, attainable changes where it is possible. This drip feeds wider change and demonstrates the desire for regeneration. At a certain point, this guarantees a positive tipping point. If we demand, en-masse that all food is organic, producers will respond. This is positive capitalism, using markets to our value. Do not freeze action because of what you cannot do. Focus on what you can do.
So when it comes to finances, how much power to create positive change do we really have as individuals inhabiting systems based on consumption, extraction and exploitation?
We are part of the bigger system. It is made up of many people just like us. The overwhelming sense that we cannot do anything is, without doubt, one of the biggest barriers to regenerative change. Here is a list of finance-related shifts you can do that form part of the move toward a better world:
Divest from companies and organisations that directly support the degradation of earth systems. Step 1 is moving your money to ethical banks like Triodos, Monzo, Starling or Co-op. Some charge a small monthly fee, which is about supporting them to make the changes sustainable. Typically it's only £3 a month. This is a massive win for very little effort.
Consider changing pension funds. Market value of UK pension funds was £2.4 trillion in 2019 (ONS), demonstrating enormous clout toward regenerative change. Here is an article that can help take you through the move toward ethical pension investment: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/money-finance/shopping-guide/ethical-pensions
Switch to a green insurance provider. Again, insurance companies hold vast sums of our money yet we typically have no say (nor knowledge) in where they invest it. Check out Naturesave for home, business or travel insurance, who will donate 10% to charity and plant lots of trees. Many companies, Aviva included, are aiming for net zero. Make sure your insurance companies do not invest in the destructive systems named earlier.
Pay less to supermarkets and giant corporations. Buy your veg from a local organic producer. Look into CSA’s (community supported agriculture) and team up with neighbours to buy in bulk from ethical, low-waste providers like SUMA, buy whole foods online, Shipton Mill and Hodmedods. Support local producers where possible and try to keep your money in companies that support positive local development/community building, rather than sending money away. Even using a trusted local garage to get an MOT keeps money in the local economy rather than sending it to deracinated corporations.
Shift your Tech payments. People tend to believe that tech means no carbon, since we save paper with emailing etc. however, every email we send/receive uses 0.4g CO2. So switching emails to a provider that runs their servers on renewable energy and minimises junk can help. A great saving, personally and environmentally is to refuse to fall for the ‘perceived obsolescence’ trap. This tells us that we need to upgrade our tech more often than is true. I purchased my iPhone 5SE secondhand in 2018 and it still works perfectly, with a new screen and battery port the only investment (in 2023). This ‘do nothing’ sustainability is powerful and simple, avoiding excess carbon, mining and generating engaging conversation (why do you have a ‘dinosaur’ phone?). It also saves some cash.
A word on the personal financial cost…
Each of us is in a unique financial situation. Part of being the change is accepting that there are costs involved. Right now all these costs are taken on by other people, typically abroad, or by the degradation of Earth's natural systems. When we take on the cost ourselves we are often deciding as an individual to make what are often framed as ‘sacrifices’. In reality, this is the only way forward. Taking on a small financial cost as individuals is what makes it possible for many of these ethical companies to exist, to demonstrate another way. Sometimes what we call cost is actually just less profit. This is fundamental. In accepting that maximising profits is precisely the problem of destructive capitalism, we must take that change on ourselves. I would never ask anyone to take on unnecessarily risky investments or to go without quality food or housing to make such changes, but the reality is that those who hold the most power to enact change are in a financial situation to make small financial sacrifices. I’m talking predominantly to those who do not fall in the lowest 10% of earners in the global north. For these people it is a decision to gain more money, not a necessity.
Thoughts on this article are, of course, welcomed. The key word is empowerment; knowing we can make the necessary changes for a just, ethical transition to a regenerative society through personal action is vital information. So much of a better world is already available when we elect to use our money for positive changes, not purely for profit maximisation. Less profit is not the same as a cost! It’s an exchange of costing planetary and societal health for a (sometimes) smaller financial gain. We begin to earn value in other ways that are holistic, rooted and shared. This is a beautiful gain.
*This is questionable. Many people, even in the global north, are choosing to live without these supposed ‘requirements’. See Robin Greenfield for a great example.