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What Is Profit?

Hook Norton Low Carbon is a limited company, but is also a not-for-profit organisation. It’s sometimes difficult for those of us used to money making businesses throughout our working lives to think through a somewhat different profit model. We obviously need to balance the books, but the real measure of our success or failure is the difference we make. We make a difference in diverse ways, some of which we can measure and some that we really can’t. What Hook Norton Low carbon is trying to do is reduce our CO2 emissions, and help others to do so too.

Directly measurable are the carbon savings from the solar panels on the Sports & Social Club, and at Banbury Plant Hire – you can see these on our website (at the bottom of the front page, on the right hand side – go and have a look). At time of writing, today for example, we saved 106kg of CO2 – that is the same as the emissions from a SUV travelling 200 miles. We also generated 150kWh of electricity, which would power 5 typical all electric households in the village – and that’s on a dull and wet day! We can’t monitor the output from the panels on the Baptist Church (did you know there were some?) or those on the school, but they all add to the carbon saving pot.

Then we offer householder loans for ‘green’ retrofit to enable villagers to reduce their own carbon emissions. The impact of these is difficult for us to measure, but if you replace electric storage radiators with an air source heat pump you could save 4000 kg of CO2 a year, not to mention a potential saving of £1000 a year on your heating bills!

We also run the Hooky Car Club. I’m sure that some of you wonder how the maths works, but it really is so much cheaper than running your own car. Some savings come from running the electric cars from our solar panel installations, as one electric car lives at the school, and the other is usually stationed at the Sports & Social Club. However, when looking at financial profit, we do employ some ‘creative accountancy’ as we do not take into account the capital cost of the cars, or their depreciation when we measure the financial performance of the car club. It is ‘viable’ for HNLC because we don’t just measure our profit in cash alone.

We have an educational and influencing role which is even more difficult to calculate. One e-bike user has bought her own e-bike to replace a second car, Car Club using households have reduced from two cars to one, saving the CO2 embodied in manufacturing yet another car. The list goes on…

So we’d like to think that HNLC is a hugely profitable enterprise in terms of what matters – the long term well-being of our planet and its population. A pile of cash will be no use on a planet that cannot sustain life.

So, is it time that the world started looking at the economy in terms of how much good is done, rather than how much money (a theoretical concept at best) is out there? If any good has come from the global pandemic it has changed, at least temporarily, public attitudes as to who is important to society (often the poorest paid, like nurses, cleaners, care home workers, childcare providers) and who is not, what use is a footballer on £20,000 a week when he can’t play?

Think of a few companies and work out, in your head, how much ‘good’ they generate both locally and globally. Oil companies won’t come out well but they have the financial resources to put that right – they could convert into green energy companies instead of pretending to do so. Your local butcher selling locally sourced meat may be slightly more expensive than the big supermarkets (though in reality they often are cheaper) but the reduction in transport carbon is worth a small investment. Home delivery companies, some of whom we love to hate, are now our friends in lockdown, and one van delivering to ten houses in Hook Norton has saved ten car journeys to Banbury – however, we do need to keep the pressure on them to use their resources to de-carbonise as quickly as they can.

If you are in the fortunate position to be able to invest money (and you may not realise that is you, but you might have pension funds and saving accounts) ask questions about where that money is invested. De-carbonising a pension portfolio can be (and in the writer’s case was) both a positive ‘ethical’ move, but also a financially shrewd decision.

It would be lovely if the post Covid-19 economy was valued on social ‘profit’ rather than financial gain, but if we sit idly by the usual suspects will crawl out of the woodwork to re-establish the status quo.

It’s up to all of us to push for social and ethical profit – what will you do?