The Ecology Building Society (hereafter referred to as “Ecology”) is an institution dedicated to upholding sustainable building and living by providing mortgages solely for environmentally-friendly projects and housing. Since its founding in 1981, it has funded over 3,500 sustainable living projects. In 2020 alone, it provided £39.3 million to fund 230 sustainable homes and projects.
As expected of an entity with the word “Ecology” in its name, this building society deeply cares about leaving a positive impact on the environment. Its dedication and contributions towards green development and commitment towards transparency seem unparalleled in the financial sector. From incentivizing energy efficiency to mortgage discounts to ensuring that its offices are completely run on renewable energy, every part of its operations reflects its green mission. However, it is not a perfect institution, as there are occasional lapses in adherence with its core values. All in all, Ecology’s many sustainable practices warrants a fairly high score of 2.7 planets.
Ecology is focused on lending mortgages that are funded by their savers, which means that it does not have to invest in potentially unsustainable industries or companies. They offer a variety of C-Change mortgage discounts for clients who commit to energy efficiency as a way of incentivizing people to finance sustainable lifestyles. For instance, clients who take out a mortgage for buying or building a home that meets Passivhaus standards—the sole set of internationally recognized energy standards—may receive a 1.25% discount for the duration of the loan. Similarly, clients receive a 0.25% discount for each Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) grade boost they get while improving the energy efficiency of their homes.
As part of Ecology’s devotion to funding affordable housing, it adopts a “low impact approach to sustainable living, particularly in rural areas” while also addressing energy efficiency to combat fuel poverty and carbon emissions. Buildings contribute to over 27% of the United Kingdom’s carbon emissions, which is why such a heavy emphasis is placed on housing and sustainable development.
While it is difficult to find the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) score of a small institution such as Ecology, a case study conducted by the Finance for the Future Awards can be used as a reference point for the institution’s success in actually contributing to sustainability. The study found that 78% of projects funded by Ecology receive EPC grades of B or higher (for comparison, the average EPC grade in England is D). While there is room for improvement, this is an impressive feat, considering that a majority of these projects scored way above average.
Ecology had its start in 1980 at a conference for the Ecology Party (which will eventually become the modern-day UK Green Party) and was officially founded in 1981. Its operations began in a small office in West Yorkshire before moving a few miles to their sustainably-built offices where they are situated today. Its legacy is long-lasting, as their mission of sustainability has not changed since their founding, and some of its ten original founders continue to be members of the building society.
In addition to funding sustainable projects, Ecology actively strives to make their operations as eco-friendly as possible. The society runs fully on electricity and gas from vegan-certified, renewable energy suppliers that produce their own energy, do not use gas obtained from fracking, and is developing biogas mills that generate carbon-neutral gas. It has also been offsetting its carbon emissions since its founding in 1981. Moreover, detailed descriptions of its eco-build offices can be found on its Ethics and Sustainability webpage. Notably, its offices are designed to be energy-efficient and compatible with natural surroundings. Gardens also surround the offices and abound in edible crops alongside a woodland habitat and a wildflower meadow. Such attention to detail is indicative of Ecology’s adherence to its mission; after all, it is only logical that a sustainable building society would house itself in an ecologically-friendly environment.
Ecology also provides concrete numbers pertaining to its environmental impact on its website. It clearly displays a breakdown of its carbon footprint in an easily digestible graphic on its About Us page under “Ethics and sustainability.” While this is a laudable act of transparency, it is important to note that this graphic is from 2020, which means that it is not up-to-date.
Additionally, Ecology states that, as part of its commitment to accountability, it follows a carbon footprint assessment method that involves measuring all emissions from its supply chain. However, the graphic shows that only 54.2% of its carbon footprint comes from services and supply chains, meaning that nearly half of its remaining emissions are not accounted for. This suggests that this assessment is not as accurate as Ecology makes it out to be.
Furthermore, Ecology provides its total emissions for 2017 and 2018 on its website, (which is a notable example of transparency, like the graphic, but could also benefit from being updated). While the carbon intensity of Ecology’s operations remained at 1.6 grams of CO2 per £ of total assets for both years, its absolute emissions increased from 276.5 tonnes CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) to 284 tonnes CO2e, which they mention is due to an increase in business-related travel for reaching out to potential clients. Ecology highlights that its 2018 emissions otherwise would only have been 224.8 tonnes CO2e, implying that staff travel is a negligible source of emissions. Although increasing their client base would lead to more sustainable projects being put into place, the act of using this end to justify the means of traveling unsustainably borders on being a compromise to its values.
In spite of its shortcomings in previous sections, this is where Ecology really shines. The Ecology board is made up of several members with rich backgrounds and experience in sustainability. Louise Pryor, who holds the position of Chair, is a climate change actuary and risk specialist with 30 years of experience, along with being a Fellow of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment and being Chair of the London Climate Change Partnership. Kerry Mashford, who holds the position of Director, previously served as Chief Executive of the National Energy Foundation, where she worked in sustainability and building performance; she also has a background in mechanical engineering, which is relevant for building and development. Vince Smith, who also holds the position of Director, earned an environmental degree, served for 21 years in the Trustee of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, and volunteers for several nature conservation groups. Chris Newman, who holds the position of Director, is also a director of Parity Projects, where he works to improve energy efficiency in homes. Tim Morgan, who also holds the position of Director, has 20 years of experience in the social impact sector. Seeing what these board members have been and continue to be involved in shows that Ecology at its core genuinely cares about making the planet a better place.
Ecology as a whole is also quite involved in larger institutions. It is a member of the Energy Efficient Mortgages Pilot Scheme in Europe, where it sets an example for others through its mortgage options that promote energy efficiency. It is also a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, an independent cohort of banks dedicated to sustainable development through finance. Ecology has also done work with the UK Green Building Council, the Association for Environment Conscious Building, and the Passivhaus Trust to engage in sustainable building.
Ecology was recognized for its efforts and impact in 2019 by the Finance for the Future Awards. It won in the categories of building sustainable financial products and climate leadership.
In addition to all its achievements in sustainability, Ecology is also committed to fair tax and fair pay. In 2016, it became the first building society in the UK to receive the Fair Tax Mark, an accreditation scheme for responsible tax conduct. In 2015, it became an accredited Living Wage Employer.
With all of that in mind, it is evident that Ecology goes above and beyond to contribute to building a more liveable, sustainable world.