Paul Ellis, the longest standing chief executive in the UK building society sector, is celebrating a quarter of a century at Ecology Building Society,
The ethical finance bank says it has proven that “values-based and purpose-driven finance works”. It says it has enjoyed 30 years of profitability, with Mr Ellis overseeing an increase in assets of more than £150m (more than 900%) since his appointment.
Ecology’s mission is to build a greener society, providing mortgages for properties that support sustainable communities and respect the environment. It supports eco-renovations, refurbishment and eco new builds, and community-led housing.
“We are really contributing to building the blocks, or pointing the way to a new economy,” said Mr Ellis, who has spent 22 of his years there as the chief executive. “We’ve proved the sustainability of our model that pursues values.”
His time at the helm of the building society, based in Silsden, West Yorkshire, has seen it widen its remit from residential-only mortgages to lending for a wide range of commercial and community-led housing projects. Last year, Ecology lent more than £30m to sustainable properties and projects.
Mr Ellis was born in Hull but, with his father serving in the Forces, lived all over the world including Belgium, Germany and Malaysia, giving him an “internationalist outlook”.
“I very quickly gained a feeling we needed to protect our natural environment,” he said. “I then allied that into an interest in social justice. Without social justice, you can’t protect our natural environment, and we need to protect it for all our sakes, and future generations. Everything I do is driven by that.”
He studied European integration at the London School of Economics (LSE), before meeting Jean Lambert, a founder of the Ecology Building Society and now a Green MEP.
Mr Ellis joined the Ecology team 25 years ago. With a flair for IT and coding, he worked on its computer systems as a hobby, which turned into a full-time job. In just three years he rose to the top position of CEO.
Ecology supports small-scale and community developments in a UK market that Mr Ellis says is “controlled by a handful of large developers, which means affordability is a permanent problem”.
He added: “I got the idea straight away of people using their own personal capital to build the economy that they wanted. I was a big supporter of the idea.
“It’s about addressing imbalances in the housing market. We need a massive national retrofit and renovation programme to get things up to scratch if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate change commitments.”
Ecology is the first building society in the UK to be awarded the Fair Tax Mark, an accreditation that celebrates the issue of responsible tax. It holds the Green accreditation mark under the Investors in the Environment scheme – the highest level of certification possible. It was selected as an ethical ‘Best Buy’ for its mortgages and savings accounts by the Ethical Consumer magazine.