This is the first ‘ethical map’ of Britain, based on a study of 50,000 people putting money into businesses and enterprises trying to do something positive for society or the environment
They stretch from Totnes in the south-west, once named the capital of new age chic by Time magazine, to the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh, with its cobbled streets and bohemian vibe.
Others include Crouch End and Stoke Newington in north London, Hanover in Brighton – dubbed “Muesli Mountain” by locals – and the West Yorkshire towns of Hebden Bridge, Todmorden and Ilkley. The affluent Hallam area of Sheffield and the leafy Bristol district of Clifton also feature.
These are just a few of the locations on the first comprehensive map of the UK’s “positive investment” hotspots – the areas with the greatest concentrations of people who are putting money into businesses, social enterprises and other ventures that are trying to do something positive for society or the environment as well as generate a financial return.
Researchers examined almost 50,000 such investments by postcode, ranging from shares in ethical coffee brand Cafedirect and green electricity supplier Good Energy to savings held with the likes of Ecology building society and Charity Bank, to reveal where these people live, what they invest in and why.
They concluded that about £1.6bn is invested or saved “positively” in the UK, made up of more than a million investments in about 700 businesses and schemes including credit unions, charity retail bonds and community share issues. Positive investments tend to be in sectors such as Fairtrade, renewable energy, poverty alleviation, organic farming, community shops and pubs, sustainable forestry, green transport, organic food and social property.
The map and research have been published by Ethex, an ethical investment trading platform, to coincide with the start of National Ethical Investment Week, which runs from tomorrow until next Saturday.
According to Ethex, positive investors are clustered in 10 hotspots, generally characterised by their strong sense of community, thriving cultural life and large numbers of independent shops (we’ll leave others to make the inevitable wisecracks about the proliferation of Guardian-reading types, who we like to describe as “progressives”, also present in many of these areas).
The largest hotspot is north London, specifically the postcodes close to the green spaces of Hampstead Heath, Highbury Fields and Alexandra Palace. “The highest concentration of positive investors is to the west of the Heath, in wards such as Hampstead, Belsize Park and Childs Hill,” the report says. Highgate, Kentish Town, Gospel Oak, Stoke Newington, Crouch End and Stroud Green are also included. The researchers also found concentrations of positive investors in an arc of south-east London stretching from Herne Hill to Telegraph Hill, and two areas of west London: West Ealing, and the area south of Queen’s Park station down to the Harrow Road.
Second place on the hotspots list is Bristol (north and west), including the wards of Clifton, Southville and Stoke Bishop, plus nearby Nailsea and Wraxall. Third place is taken by the area known as the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales, which includes Hebden Bridge, well known for its funky shops and cafes, lively music scene and for allegedly being the UK’s lesbian capital. In fourth place is the area running from Sheffield to the Peak District, and fifth is Oxford (east and north), with suburbs such as Summertown, Jericho and Osney.
The report also identified five areas described as “rising stars”: Bath, Lancaster, Chorlton in Manchester, Stroud in Gloucestershire, and the area of Moray in north-east Scotland that plays host to the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community and eco-village near the town of Forres.
According to Ethex, the hotspots tend to have strong arts scenes and a focus on education: of the 15 areas, 12 include, or are close to, a university. But what is perhaps most marked is their independent attitude to finance, with many having their own currency.
And what about the investors themselves? The researchers say they tend to be older – half are aged between 50 and 69 – though this may reflect the fact that some of the investments covered by the survey date back to the 1980s. Also, almost half of the investors have put money into more than one venture.
What about the positive investment “cold spots” – the places where people aren’t bothered about using their money to make the world a better place? One of the report’s most intriguing findings was that wealth wasn’t a strong indicator of the tendency to invest in ventures that do good. Kensington and Chelsea in London is one of the wealthiest boroughs in Britain, but it only ranked 147 for positive investing. The towns of Beaconsfield and Windsor and, further north, the constituency of Tatton, which includes Knutsford and Wilmslow, all feature in the income and wealth tables, but ranked 294, 250 and 229 respectively.
At £1.6bn, the positive investment market is just a fraction of the £8.6bn ethical fund sector. But with the latter, what typically happens is that a limited number of activities such as arms and tobacco are excluded, and then the next-best performing investments are chosen, says Jamie Hartzell, founder and managing director of Ethex.
“The range of exclusions is often narrow and results in investments in standard FTSE stocks and shares that can be surprising, such as oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, high street banks and large food companies,” he says. “Simple negative screening of investments is no longer enough – investors want it to be beyond question that their investment is having a positive impact.”
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