SDGs Advent Day 8: Sustainable Cities

Written by Paul Ellis on 18th December 2017

Every day in the run-up to Christmas, Good With Money is featuring one expert, talking about how to meet one of the UN Global Goals. Paul Ellis, who is the longest standing CEO in the UK building society sector, is celebrating a quarter of a century at Ecology, with 22 years as Chief Executive. Here he discusses how investors can help make cities more sustainable.

More than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas. By 2050 that figure will have risen to two-thirds and, as cities continue to grow, many challenges exist to developing them in a way that continues to create jobs and prosperity without costing the earth.

At Ecology we believe that the financial system can work for both people and planet, helping to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable – the aim of SDG 11.

Investing is not a neutral act. Because our money has an impact in the real world, we should factor that into our decision-making.

Our mutual status enables us to take this mission-driven approach. We can only put ecological building and sustainable communities first because our members – owners – give us a mandate to do this. When they save with Ecology, our members trust us to use their money in line with our mission.

In the UK, organisations such as Ecology can use their members’ savings to help tackle the affordability housing crisis that is plaguing many of our cities. Here are two ways we do this:


People-powered housing


When it comes to housing, it often seems that the odds are stacked against local communities. With property prices rising faster than incomes, many struggle to find an affordable, quality home in their local area. Large-scale developers’ plans frequently pay little heed to local people’s needs and priorities – like affordability and the provision of green space.

We’ve always worked with communities that want to stand up and do things differently by supporting community-led approaches to housing such as co-housing, co-operative ownership and community land trusts. These approaches ensure that local people play a leading and lasting role in addressing local housing issues, creating genuinely affordable homes and strong communities.

We recently supported the London Community Land Trust which is providing 23 permanently affordable homes as part of the St Clements development. The homes are being sold at prices pegged to local incomes and Ecology pioneered an award-winning mortgage solution which takes account of the homes’ permanent affordability.

Modern Methods of Construction


The emergence of offsite construction known as Modern Methods of Construction has the potential to make a big difference in the way we build new homes in the future. New technologies and manufacturing methods are enabling the development of bespoke made-to-measure homes, which are then delivered and erected within weeks on serviced plots with all the utilities already in place.

The good news is that these projects can easily engineer energy efficiency into the build process helping to make our homes more sustainable. We’ve included innovative construction materials such as SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) in our lending criteria for many years. We also know we played a key role in driving the uptake of the Passivhaus standard in the UK, as founders of the Passivhaus Trust, which is helping to spearhead a new generation of low carbon homes.

Investing is not a neutral act. Because our money has an impact in the real world, we should factor that into our decision-making. Our experience shows that financial decisions can be as ethically significant as any other choices we make, as consumers and citizens.

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