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Conscientious parents using their KiwiSaver to make real change

4 minute read

When Juliet Dale wanted to be kinder to the planet she followed a familiar path.

There were reusable shopping bags, then DIY home cleaning products, a bamboo toothbrush, and the ditching of takeaway coffee cups.

But, unlike many of us, the Auckland mum-of-three didn't stop there.

What began as an effort to reduce her family's household waste became The Great Eco Journey and an eco-warrior was born.

That was in 2017 and since then Dale has found ethical and sustainable practices for almost every facet of her life.

But there was one thing that still niggled: her KiwiSaver and where her money was going.

Enter a familiar face (and voice): David Attenborough.

Dale was curled up on the couch with the kids watching Attenborough's A Life on our Planet, a film that reflects on the famed naturalist's rapidly growing alarm at humanity's inability to save itself from near-certain environmental destruction.

"It was, hands down, the most impactful movie I have ever watched," said Dale.

One scene struck a deep chord with Dale, and it involved Attenborough's thoughts on investments.

"It's crazy," Attenborough said, "that our banks and our pensions are investing in fossil fuels when these are the very things that are jeopardising the future that we are saving for."

It was the push Dale needed.

"I kept thinking about it until eventually I decided that I needed to do some research into my own KiwiSaver, and other options out there," she said.

That's when she discovered Pathfinder KiwiSaver Plan, (until this month known as CareSaver) an ethical investment provider committed to carbon-neutral funds. Dale became one of the growing ranks of conscientious parents and environmentally concerned Kiwis who have discovered a simple yet powerful way to make a positive impact on the planet by choosing where their KiwiSaver money is invested.

For most Kiwis it has been easy to just see their money accumulate over the years through KiwiSaver and not think any more about it.

And with more than 381,000 New Zealanders still in default schemes, many of us (including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern) aren't always aware of what our KiwiSaver funds are invested in.

The good news is that it's entirely possible to have a say on what's happening to the planet while concentrating on your investment returns.

And while making the switch is easy – it takes less than two minutes to switch providers - Dale says it wasn't done lightly.

"Yes, I am an environmentalist, but I am also pragmatic, and I don't want to be a chump who finds myself struggling to make ends meet in my 70s because I followed a whim and invested in something that sounded great idealistically, but that didn't stack up financially," she said.

"So I did a LOT of research, not only into the ethical side of things, but also the financial before I gave myself a couple of weeks to mull it over, and finally made the decision to switch.

"But I haven't regretted my decision for a moment.

"Put simply, it just feels right."

The Pathfinder model works like this: when you invest your money with them it will go to companies making a positive change in the world, while avoiding investments that harm the environment and society in general.

That means no to things like tobacco, factory farming, fossil fuels, animal testing and gambling, and all New Zealand companies must have at least one female on their board.

On top of that, each year the Pathfinder KiwiSaver Plan donates 20 per cent of their management fees to a charity you select.

Their Ethical Calculator even lets you find out where your KiwiSaver is invested and allows you to check if those companies are aligned to your personal principles.

As Juliet discovered, not only are Pathfinder Kiwisaver Plan members lessening the environmental impact on the planet for both them and future generations by methodically investing in low-carbon count companies, but they are also having a say in giant business.

The KiwiSaver plan's holding company, Pathfinder Asset Management, uses and shares updates on its shareholder voting rights to influence giant businesses on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles.

Pathfinder CEO John Berry says more and more Kiwis are being drawn to ethical investing.

"As individuals, we want to help and have a positive impact on the world," said Berry, "and what we are focussed on through Pathfinder is the way we invest has an impact on the world.

"It doesn't matter whether you have $1,000 or $100,000 in KiwiSaver, you're part of that $70 billion, and as a country we should be thinking how we want to allocate that money and what kind of corporate behaviour do we want to encourage or discourage," he said.

But do good values create value?

Yes, says Berry, pointing out that good investment returns don't come at the expensive of ethics.

"In fact, today the opposite is true," he said.

"Our Conservative, Balanced and Growth Funds have been top performers since they were launched."

To find out more about Pathfinder KiwiSaver Plan's commitment to lower carbon counts through ethical management visit path.co.nz.

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