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Guest Blog – My Journey Through Ethical Investing

Anthea Madill 8 minute read

About the Author

Anthea is the director of Clever Green Limited and Remix Plastic, through which she strives to provide education that encourages and empowers individuals to make sustainable changes. 

Anthea has a BSc in Zoology. She trained as a PADI dive instructor at Dive Otago and in 2011 was awarded the Rolex Our World Underwater Scholarship for the Australasian region. Through this scholarship she worked on marine conservation efforts around the world.

Anthea is interested in all levels of the waste reduction conversation: government and policy, business and academic research, and individuals and households. Through her experiences in science, conservation, sustainability and living a zero-waste lifestyle, Anthea provides environmentally focused education throughout Christchurch.

Moment of realisation

In October 2019 I attended One Summit in Wanaka. The 6-day event was hosted by One New Zealand, a local organisation that aimed to educate, inspire and enable a transition to a low carbon future. The summit included an amazing variety of discussions and topics, from regenerative farming to sustainable tourism.

For me, there were a few pivotal moments over the week. One of them was when I was listening to the panel on impact investing. Impact investing is defined as investing in and supporting businesses that actively do good, contrasted with ‘responsible investing’ which is simply avoiding the bad. I learnt that by 2050 there will be $500 billion in KiwiSaver Schemes. That is 500 billion dollars in the hands of individuals. With KiwiSaver being my only real cash asset, I realised that I have a huge opportunity in deciding where that money is invested. Most Kiwis don’t want to be supporting human rights abuses, weapons, animal testing, but what can we as individuals do about it? Barry Coates has identified this problem and provided us a solution in the form of Mindful Money, a platform that allows individuals to find out how their KiwiSaver is invested and then provides a way of exploring alternative investment options.

What evil was I supporting?

At that moment, I left the presentation to open my laptop and see what my KiwiSaver was invested in. It was a kick in the guts! I had been doing my best to lead an environmentally conscious household for 3 years; buying packaging-free, making eco-friendly cleaners to avoid palm oil, using renewable energy and investing in an electric car. But the simple, colour coded infographic on Mindful Money’s website revealed that my KiwiSaver had been supporting those things that I was working so hard to avoid.

What was worse, on closer inspection of the list of companies that my KiwiSaver fund may have been invested in, I found specific companies that I had been boycotting for my entire consumer life!

  • Procter and Gamble Co – infamously ousted as one of the huge animal testing organisations in the 90’s. Disturbing photos from their mistreatment of animals have governed the way I have purchased toiletries and cosmetics since I was 13 years old.
  • Johnson and Johnson – infamously have an outrageous number of lawsuits against them for knowingly putting the public’s health at risk.
  • Exxon Mobil Corp – infamous for the Valdez oil spill that released 11 million gallons of crude oil onto Alaska’s coastline in 1989. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. history until the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Speaking of which, I was also investing in BP.
  • Nestle – Misleading consumers, exploiting workers and damaging the environment since 1866. 

I am certain there are many other individuals around Aotearoa that have similar morals and values and who would be as shocked and disheartened as I was to find what their KiwiSaver funds (and potentially other cash assets) are invested in.

What could I do about it?

The next step was to look at what funds DO align with my values. Conveniently, Mindful Money provides a ‘Fund Finder’ that allows users to choose what their highest priority is: avoiding concerns, selecting better companies, low fees or highest past returns. From there you can rank which activities you want your fund to avoid.

I tinkered with this Fund Finder for a few minutes, changing my rankings and priorities to assess what it suggested for me. On every occasion, I was presented with a CareSaver fund of some form.

I rang my husband and in an urgent and upset tone told him that we need to change our KiwiSaver from our current provider because they invest in fossil fuels, palm oil, animal testing and human rights violations. He responded with ‘yea, we knew they did’. I was taken aback because it was absolutely right. I was aware that our bank, along with many others, was not making any proactive attempts to avoid investing in any of the things that I care deeply about. But it wasn’t until I was presented with an actual breakdown and a list of companies, that it made me do anything about it.

I resolved to add ‘Change KiwiSaver’ to my already long to-do list and continued with my other work tasks for the day. It felt too hard and too arduous to do it there and then.

Moving from bad to good

The last day of the One Summit was the Eco-Fair – an indoor market that provided the opportunity to connect local organisations, businesses and individuals working on achieving the global UN Sustainable Development Goals.

I spotted a CareSaver stall and went over to find out more about their work. I was relieved to see them there as I assumed this would make taking the task off my to-do list slightly easier, but simultaneously, the conscious consumer in me made sure my guard was up. I am aware of the difficulties of navigating greenwashing and false claims within sustainability and needed convincing. I spoke with Simon Leach, the Business Development Manager, and asked him a few questions around how it worked.

Like many consumers, I was looking for things that I recognised and trusted – the first thing that jumped out was the alignment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Great start! This means they are recognising an international framework for a transition to a more sustainable future. Next, I looked at the list of charities that they support (they donate a portion of the fees to a charity of your choosing) – I was glad to see familiar charities that aligned with my values, such as Project JonahPlunket Foundation and Garden to Table.

Having had CareSaver recommended through Mindful Money and speaking to someone in person about it, I was keen to make the change. I started the process and then left my details to complete it when I had my ID in front of me. The next day I had a follow-up call from Simon, and he talked me through the online form. It was all pretty standard until it came to choose the charity that a portion of my fees would support. I looked at the list and said, ‘I like all of these, how am I going to choose?’. His response was possibly the best I could have hoped for. He said ‘how about I tell you the ones that have the fewest supporters?’ and went on to suggest those charities that may not seem as exciting to the average Kiwi but that play incredibly important roles in New Zealand.

Within 2 minutes I had swapped from my traditional big bank KiwiSaver Scheme to a socially and environmentally conscious one. For me this change has been incredibly important because once I knew what I had been supporting, it would have weighed on my mind if I hadn’t switched straight away. Once you learn, you can’t unlearn. Since changing, I have also learnt more about the work that CareSaver do and one of the things that I found most striking is that they vote on the boards of those companies that they support. This means that they are not only supporting businesses that are doing good, but they are proactively trying to make them even better!

The power of money in creating a better future

This series of events has made me aware of the power that individuals have beyond their day to day lives. Many of us feel that we can’t change the system in any huge way because we don’t have a load of money to throw behind those doing good, but it turns out our KiwiSaver is a vehicle for this. Even if, like me, you feel that your KiwiSaver isn’t a significant amount of money in the grand scheme of things, between us we have a decent sum! Half of all the money invested in the world is pension money and 9 times out of 10 it is supporting systems that are contributing to climate change, rather than those trying to stop or reverse it.

Many people don’t realise how easy it is to change their KiwiSaver from their bank, but it really is a few clicks. I strongly recommend you find out where your money is invested and explore where you want it to be through the Mindful Money website. Together we can have an impact that will be much bigger than the sum of our parts!

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