I had an interesting telephone conversation with my bank this week regarding my decision to completely switch all my financial affairs to a more ethical provider.

It seemed that the word “ethical” has not made it onto the drop-down menu of the call centre workers charged with discovering why I had made my decision. I tried in vain to explain what I meant about my soon-to-be old bank’s “poor ethical rating”.

At one point I was invited to go to my local branch to discuss my concerns because “you might be able to change our minds about the things you’re not happy with”.

I thanked the bank worker for her faith in my powers of persuasion, but declined the offer as I felt it was unlikely I would be able to change the investment policies of such a global institution during a single 15-minute chat.

It confirmed many of the reasons why I wanted to switch in the first place. But it also showed that awareness about such issues does tend to hinge on where you look for information – or if you’re at all interested to begin with.

Despite the fact that more companies and organisations are promoting their ethical credentials, is our level of understanding sufficient to make a considered judgment on what it means?

For example, for the first time an ethical investment has topped the performance table of 324 unit trusts investing in the UK stock market (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6345767.stm).

The accolade goes to the Co-operative Insurance Sustainable Leaders fund (http://www.cis.co.uk).

It is heartening to see such success. For many years, ethical funds have endured a poor image based mainly on the fact that the level of performance has consistently failed to match the more established and traditional providers.

The performance of the CIS fund will, hopefully, signal a change in attitudes.

But it will continue to be a comparatively slow pace of change. Confusion does still tend to reign and as such the significance will be lost.

A few good starting points for those interested in finding out some more information include:

http://www.eiris.org/

http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/ and the sister site http://www.ethiscore.org/

http://www.greenconsumerguide.com/

http://www.gooshing.co.uk

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