Saturday, 16 January 2010

The evolving green insurance revolution

Ever the sceptic when we hear about large companies claiming to have become eco-friendly, we were nevertheless heartened to hear that M&S Money will no longer automatically replace fridges, washing machines and other white goods on a like-for-like basis. Instead it will pay for a model that is rated at least an 'A' for energy efficiency, even if it costs more than the original. In addition, where significant rebuilding is needed, such as after a fire, the insurance will pay for the work to be done in line with the best environmental standards - the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4. This can reduce the amount of carbon produced in building and running a home by about half. Whilst this may be seen as expedience by M&S marketing gurus in recognising and exploiting growing consumer concerns over the environment, it’s an important development when seen in the wider context. That is, it underlines the power of the consumer to force companies to change their policies whilst signalling a growing (albeit sometimes begrudging) willingness by larger companies to take environmental concerns more seriously. Its clearly only a start since, for example, we still have supermarkets selling products made with palm oil obtained from plantations built on cleared rainforests, selling clothes made by children working under appalling conditions and selling food flown in from across the globe clocking up huge carbon miles. These same supermarkets promote themselves as being eco-friendly with ‘green’ good and services. But with concerted pressure this hypocrisy can be exposed and policies changed. While M&S Money says its specific green policy features are a first, there are already other environmentally friendly insurance options that can be found throughout the Green Providers Directory. Many of the companies listed offer discounts on insurance for households that reflect eco-lifestyles, including homes with cavity wall and loft insulation, wind turbines, solar panels, double glazing, energy-efficient appliances and water butts in the garden. Further, its not only household insurance where the type of policy you buy could make a difference. Several insurers are now running offset schemes where part of the premium goes towards compensating for the amount of CO2 you produce. Co-operative Insurance, for example, runs a carbon offset scheme for all of its motor insurance policies. Projects include planting new forests in Uganda and subsidising people in Madagascar who are purchasing energy-efficient stoves so that they don't need to cut down so many trees for fuel. Dr. Gary Robertshaw January 2010

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Snow and human nature - a microcosm of the real world?

Driving home recently I decided to take a different route to avoid a long traffic queue which was building up due to the snow and icy conditions.

Unfortunately, this different route turned out to be a bad idea as I quickly found myself joining another long queue of motorists who had had the same idea as me. This situation was worsened by the fact that the road narrowed in one section, so that only one line of traffic could pass through at any given time.

Stuck in a queue not moving I observed the unfolding events. The first was a rather angry middle aged man stomping past the queue of cars berating drivers of two-wheel drive cars – complaining that he was stuck behind them and that it was their fault he couldn’t get moving.

Next, the driver of another four-wheel drive vehicle, clearly frustrated at having to wait decided to mount the pavement and attempt to manoeuvre around the blockage before himself becoming trapped.

Eventually the traffic began moving again before reaching an incline. This time several cars began sliding around frantically as they tried to ascend the incline. Inevitably some became stuck. Two four-wheel drive cars weaved in between the stranded cars at some speed before racing off without offering assistance. Another driver of a four-wheel drive vehicle stopped and offered help to several motorists.

In front of me was a young driver with the sense to wait at the bottom of the incline until the stranded cars managed to get moving, some being pushed by passers by and other drivers. Behind me was an irate driver of a 4x4 who began hooting his horn, and gesturing at the young driver to get out of his way. As the intimidated young woman driver began moving, the 4x4 driver sped past with horn full on, weaving his way through and sped off. The 4x4 driver was quickly joined by a two-wheel drive car driver who tried to jump the queue before himself becoming stranded on the hill, blocking other cars in the process.

After helping to push several cars I was myself helped past the incline, and managed to get safely home albeit somewhat frazzled.

On reflection, I couldn’t help but wonder if this wasn’t simply an expression of human nature in a wider context. At one extreme, selfish individuals who care little about the well-being of others; at the other end of the scale altruistic people who volunteer to help even when there is no direct benefit to themselves. Stereotyping can be dangerous, but I find it hard to accept that those people who acted selfishly in this situation would be the type of people concerned about climate change, fair trade and ethics. Which made me wonder – how many of these people are there out there?

Dr. Gary Robertshaw
The Green Providers Directory
January 2010