If you’re in the market for an environmentally friendly bank, there are a variety of options these days. Many banks are becoming more eco-conscious, from the buildings they occupy to how they invest their customers’ dollars. Choosing one that’s right for you will depend in part on whether you want a mom-and-pop shop or a national bank with branches coast to coast.
In recent years, direct deposit and Internet banking have broken down regional banking barriers, opening up a range of options to customers across the globe. Previously, if you preferred a smaller outfit, it meant staying local. And smaller communities that weren’t home to some of the nation’s larger banks were shut out of those institutions. Not anymore. With so many banks to choose from, the next logical step is to find one that meets your ethical sensibilities too.
Given that one green banking option — stowing your hard-earned cash under an organic cotton mattress — leaves you without an ATM card, consumers should choose their banks wisely, says Michelle Chan, program manager for the Friends of the Earth’s Green Investment Project, which works to make banks and investors more accountable for the environmental and social ramifications of their loans and investments.
Smaller banks are currently developing some of the most creative green innovations, such as offering customers low-rate loans to install solar panels on their homes or investing in research into the health impacts of environmental toxins. But several of the world’s largest banks are also taking steps to ensure their environmental bona fides.
HSBC, with 450 branches in the U.S., is the world’s first carbon-neutral multinational bank. It offsets 35 percent of its electricity with renewable sources, and in May it pledged $100 million to four nonprofits dedicated to fighting climate change: The Climate Group, Earthwatch Institute, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund.
Similarly, Bank of America has promised to lower its operations-related greenhouse gas emissions by nine percent under its 2004 baseline within two years. The company, which has 5,800 branches, offers a $3,000 reimbursement to employees who purchase hybrid vehicles; has committed to achieving LEED certification in all new office facilities and banking centers over the next decade; and will invest $100 million in energy conservation at bank facilities. The bank also pledges to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of its energy and utility portfolio seven percent by 2008.
Citibank, which has 1,400 branches, announced in May  that it’s committing $50 billion over the next decade to combat climate change. Of that, $30 billion will finance investments in wind, solar and other alternative energy and clean-technology projects. The company also aims to shrink its own environmental footprint by renovating offices in New York City and Dallas to achieve LEED status.
All in all, banks large and small have come a long way to meet consumer demand for a better planet. “A bank’s real impact — either positive or negative — lies in its investment, lending, and financing portfolios,” says Chan. “Nobody wants to finance with their bank deposits the environmentally harmful practices they would refuse to support with their purchasing dollar.”
Story by Liz Galst. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2007.
Copyright Environ Press 2007