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Finance for the future: SMEs make an impact

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 13 May 2022

Ecology Building Society won two Finance for the Future Awards in 2019, demonstrating that small companies can make a big difference. Now, its sustainability lead is judging the next round of entrants.

Ecology Building Society, a West Yorkshire-based business with just 42 colleagues, is trying to change the financial system. Alison Vipond, its sustainability policy and innovation lead, explains that If your business model revolves around enabling people to live sustainably by creating more sustainable homes and communities, you need to be able to walk the walk. 

“We’re small, but we try to have an impact beyond our size. For example, why not be part of international networks to try to change the financial system? Why not be ambitious, to use our voice for change?

“We want to demonstrate new ways of doing things that show that they are viable, so the rest of the market can follow.”

As part of this desire to have a greater influence, in 2019 the company decided to enter the Finance for the Future Awards. Ecology won twice, in the Climate Leadership and Moving Financial Markets categories. Now, Vipond sits on the judging panel. 

Being a judge has made her value the award even more. “Now I have an insight into the standard of the competition, the rigour that goes into it, the genuine attention to detail and the really excellent, balanced judging, it’s made me appreciate what a prestigious award it is.”

Vipond is one of the judges for the Moving Financial Markets category. This is a broad category, looking for initiatives that are financially sustainable and create a positive sustainable impact. Judges are also looking at a push to change the wider financial system. 

Ecology Building Society exemplifies this. The business aims to make a big difference to society through every transaction it facilitates. Its mortgage lending is targeted at improving the housing stock, for example renovating properties to improve their energy efficiency and bringing underutilised properties back into use. 

It also offers its range of “C-change” discounts for borrowers that improve their property’s energy efficiency, so as the property improves, the interest rate paid reduces. “That’s a discount according to the energy efficiency in the property, which to us makes complete sense. It’s about encouraging the right behaviours,” says Vipond.

Ecology also puts addressing the climate emergency at the centre of its strategy, both in terms of how it operates as a business and how it designs its products. “We very much want to demonstrate the art of the possible and then look to scale it up. So because part of our mission is to do that, and to enable our new methods to scale, we saw that entering the awards was a route to do that.”

Winning the awards was a massive confidence boost for the company, says Vipond. “As a small organisation, you’re competing against other organisations that have much bigger marketing budgets and many more people working on these things. So it gave us that feeling that you can be relatively small, but you can still have an impact.”

Entrants in last year’s awards demonstrated the kind of impact that businesses of all sizes can have. The breadth and diversity of thought within the entrants was outstanding, says Vipond, and judging them against each other is difficult.

“There are many organisations out there that are really embedding sustainability within their organisations and using finance as a way of creating that safe future that we need and directing it in the right way.” 

Vipond is particularly excited about 2022’s entrants. It feels as if a switch has been flipped, she says, and people are really starting to push to take action on tackling climate change and other societal issues. “I’m looking for something that will make that agenda either move more quickly or more purposefully, or do something that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

Another key factor is the impact on a company’s stakeholders, working in partnership and sharing knowledge. “We’re going to solve these big issues by working together with different solutions and different actors. I want to see entrants that are very much aware of the ecosystem that they're operating in and know who they need to work with to move things forward and scale it up.”

Is your business striving to improve the world around it? Enter at the Finance for the Future website.

Finance for the Future

The 2023 awards are open for entries.

Finance for the Future Awards logo

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