How to make your banking greener

Graphics by Aimée Lister.

So, you’ve bought a reusable water bottle and you're moving away from unnecessary consumption? Great! A next step to make in your journey to having a more positive impact on the earth can be through your purse. And no, not just donating it but considering who you store it with and how.

Step 1: First steps

Thinking about money can be overwhelming at the best of times, so perhaps start with these smaller changes you can make:

Go paperless

A lot of banks now do this automatically, but if they haven’t, it’s a great way of reducing the amount of paper your bank uses to communicate with you. Traditionally, you get a bank statement each month on paper sent through the post. For most banks, this can be transferred to an email communication with a click of a button via your online banking platform. It means fewer resources are used and, as an added bonus, when you need to find a bank statement it will be searchable in your email inbox, not lost in some pit of papers you don’t want to think about!

Donate your change

Donate the change from your transactions to an environmental charity. Donating a fixed amount each month to an organisation might seem a lot and won’t necessarily be in line with your spending. However, many banking providers offer services to save your pennies from transactions by rounding them up – why not donate this amount each month? It might not seem much to you but little and often donations are the bread and butter of a lot of environmental organisations. Don’t want to do it manually? There are apps such as Round Up that do this for you.

Step 2: Influencing bigger changes

Our money can be one of our most powerful influencing tools. Where we bank and save our money may seem to exist outside of this, but the reality is that banks use our savings to invest in companies, organisations and people. By choosing where we put our money carefully, we can influence what sort of people get access to that money. For example, Barclays have been under a lot of pressure as one of the worst banks in Europe with large investments in fossil fuels and arms companies. HSBC is another that has been heavily criticised for its investments in fossil fuels and palm oil companies that have ravaged the rainforests in Indonesia.

put your money elsewhere

This is the simplest way to have an impact. Ethical banks such as the Co-op or Triodos are good options. The Co-op was the first high street bank to implement a customer-led ethical banking policy in 1992. They advertise that they are transparent about investments and invest in causes that their customers value – with a particular focus on Climate Change. Meanwhile, a 2017 report by Ethical Consumer magazine called Triodos ‘exemplary.’ They publish a list of every company they lend to and are built on environmental principles. A great thing about both of these banks is that they are protected by the FSCS which means, like with any high street bank, any savings are protected and guaranteed. Your options don’t stop there. Charity Bank uses its money to support charitable organisations and Ecology Building Society prioritises lending money to those building sustainable developments.

Credit unions are another option

An even more local approach is investing in Credit Unions. Although not strictly focused on merely environmental sustainability, these are local organisations that are more likely to loan to those who can find it hard to get help from the major banks. Knowing your money is going to local people and businesses is much better than it going to large unethical companies!

Moving banks may seem intimidating but it can be done to different degrees to suit where you are with money. You can go as far as moving all your money to ethical banking (both current accounts and savings) and closing all old accounts. However, perhaps a more manageable step would be opening a new savings account where you gradually transfer money, or opening a second current account so you don’t have to wrestle with switching all direct debits and payments at once!

Step 3: itching to campaign?

Communicate with your bank

If you do change banks – let your bank know why you left! If a bank hears a lot of us have moved our money because we don’t like their unethical investments, it will encourage more change.

Support green banking initiatives

Apart from moving our personal money, there are larger green banking initiatives and campaigns. Greenpeace especially have been known to target banks; their recent campaign against Barclays and their multi-billion dollar fossil fuel investments lead to nearly 100 locations being shut down at the beginning of March this year. If you want to get involved, you could participate in this email campaign to pressure the CEO into investing more sustainably. They aren’t the only ones putting on the pressure: People and Planet is also encouraging divestment from Barclays and have provided an action guide on how to effect change. Another organisation called Positive Investment is encouraging us to ‘Bank Switch’ in order to help the climate and society more widely. Why not take what you’ve learnt from switching your own bank accounts and encourage family or friends to do the same.

Short-term effort for long-term gains

There is proof that banks do listen to this sort of activism. Increasingly, they are being more transparent with who they lend to and are launching initiatives such as HSBC’s 2017 ‘No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation’ Policy. Of course, these initiatives are far from perfect; HSBC and others have been criticised by the Rainforest Action Network for not completely sticking to the environmental policies they’ve adopted in recent years.

However, these small wins can be transferred into bigger wins as more of us get involved. What’s more, it doesn’t have to cost anything – you might even get a better interest rate!

By Louder Than The Storm writer Daisy Everingham


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