Housing and lending: Can you afford to go green?

Going green and shopping ethically has become easier in recent years. Consumers with a conscience no longer have to seek out an independent ethical retailer to buy fairtrade bananas and chocolate or knitwear made by a Peruvian women's co-operative.

The major supermarkets now stock many fairtrade and sustainably produced foodstuffs, while fashion retailers are broadening their clothing ranges to include organic cotton garments and items made by developing communities.

But there's still a premium to pay; so in today's strained economy can we afford to be good?

The figures certainly suggest we want to 'buy good'. Overall, the UK's ethical market is worth £43.2 billion, according to the Co-operative's most recent figures, compared to £36.5 billion in 2007.

However, like tectonic plates that take thousands of years to move barely a fraction, these shifts in ethical attitudes are pretty slow. In the vast UK consumer-spending ocean, worth £700 billion a year, ethical spending still accounts for only a tiny drop (less than 7%).

In a survey commissioned by Moneywise and carried out by rewards website maximiles.co.uk, 73% of respondents say extra expense puts them off buying ethical goods. Take a look at Ecover ecological allpurpose cleaner: it costs £1.24 for 500ml, against 78p for Asda's own cream cleaner or just 25p for 750ml of its Smart Price all-purpose liquid cleaner.

The difference in food prices, meanwhile, depends on the particular item: a bunch of Tesco fairtrade bananas costs £1.37 and its organic range costs £1.55, compared to £1.15 for the Tesco Value equivalent. A carton of six Value eggs costs 69p, against 89p for six Tesco Farm Pride free-range eggs. As with the bananas, prices increase markedly again if you choose organic eggs.

Over at Sainsbury's, a Taste the Difference free-range whole chicken is priced at £7.74, compared with a similarly-sized standard whole chicken for £5.

Does 'greening' your home pay off?

You can be green and save money by making your home more energy-efficient. You might even increase its value.

Double glazing

Cost: £3,300 to £6,500
Annual saving: £160
Years to make money back: 20-40

Loft insulation

Cost: £100 to £350 to install
Annual saving: up to £175
Years to make money back: Two

Solar PV panels and feed-in tariffs

Cost: £6,000 to £10,000
Annual saving: £1,190
Years to make money back: Six to 10*

*Depending on intitial costs. All costs and savings based on an average semi-detached home.


In light of the large proportion of homeowners' salaries that typically go on their mortgages, you could consider choosing a mortgage provider with a conscience.

Ecology Building Society concerns itself with mortgage lending to eco-friendly properties - whether they be new builds, those undergoing significant improvements to benefit the environment, or buildings considered kind to the environment such as back-to-back terraces or those with thatched roofs.

"Ecology's key pricing is based around increasing discounts to reward greater energy efficiency," explains James Cotton, spokesperson for mortgage and insurance broker London & Country.

The sliding discount ranges from 0.5% to 1.25%; however, the discount is only offered on Ecology's standard variable rate and Cotton warns that the maximum discount will only apply to properties that meet "very stringent criteria".

Although less specifically green-oriented, the Co-operative Bank's ethical mortgage products are, in general, more competitively priced. "Their rates aren't that sharp at the moment, but there is an attractive lifetime tracker at 3.19% with no fees, though it does require the borrower to take out a current account and has a three-year early repayment charge," says Cotton.

To put that in context, ING has 2.89% payable with £995 fee but no ties.

"That said, Co-op is no stranger to the best-buy tables, so it may be possible to get the best of both worlds if your timing is right," he adds.

Cotton's words apply to more than just mortgages. It may be cheaper to buy battery-reared chickens and sweatshop-produced clothes, but the cost of shopping ethically doesn't have to be a huge compromise.