How to Switch to a Climate-Positive Bank!
The hard truth is that your bank is probably using your money to support the fossil fuel industry and climate collapse.
That’s why moving your money to a sustainable bank could be the most impactful action you can take to reduce your carbon footprint (or your organization’s).
So today we’re going to dive into why that is, and share resources to help you make the switch.
Let’s start with a little perspective.
The International Energy Agency made clear in 2021 what researchers and activists had been saying for years: To have any chance of limiting warming to 1.5C, there can’t be any more exploration or development of new fossil fuel resources.
And yet, the fossil fuel industry continues to explore and develop new resources which would lock in unnecessary emissions and pollution for decades – and harm for centuries.
This is only possible because they are getting the money to do it from banks and insurance companies.
As António Guterres puts it, “Fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat.”
The 60 biggest banks have given a staggering $4.6 trillion to the fossil fuel industry since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. In fact, their annual lending and underwriting to the industry have actually increased since then – clocking in at $742 billion in 2021 alone.
So cutting off the supply of money is absolutely critical to stopping the expansion of fossil fuels and reversing global heating.
At the same time, the world needs to invest somewhere at least $4 to $5 trillion dollars into climate solutions every year to limit heating to 1.5 or 2C according to Project Drawdown and the Climate Policy Initiative. In 2020 only $665 billion was invested into climate solutions. In 2021 that ticked up to about $900 billion.
So, we need to do two things:
- End financing for new fossil fuel development and infrastructure as quickly as possible.
- Increase financing for climate solutions by at least 5x.
Fortunately, as it’s our money the banks are using to do this, we have the collective power to take it away from the dirty banks, and give it to sustainable ones instead.
Our money should be funding climate solutions, not climate collapse.
So, first things first – you need to figure out…
How dirty is your current bank?
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a good chance your current bank is using your money to fuel climate collapse.
Exactly how much of your money is going to fossil fuels will vary from bank to bank with the biggest ones being the worst.
When I heard that number I was shocked – 24% toward carbon intensive projects is a lot.
But it makes sense when you consider what the Carbon Bankroll Report found last year:
“For some of the world’s largest companies, including Alphabet, Meta, Microsoft, and Salesforce, their cash and investments are their largest source of emissions. In fact, for Alphabet, Meta, and PayPal, the emissions generated by their cash and investments (financed emissions) exceed all their other emissions combined.”
Or as Bill McKibben wrote shortly after: “If you have $125k in the bank, it’s producing as much carbon as the average American in an average year.”
Below are the 12 banks giving the most to the fossil fuel industry, led by the big four in the US: JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America.
The best way to see whether your bank is financing fossil fuels is to use a tool like this one created by bank.green (great for international banks as well!) or this one created by BankFWD, The Outdoor Policy Outfit, and Green Portfolio (compares the impact of dirtiest banks in the US to the most sustainable ones).
Fortunately, if you discover that your bank is financing fossil fuels, don’t worry – there is good news: there are some really exciting sustainable banking options now!
Switching to a Sustainable Bank
Quick reminder: I’m a sustainability nerd – not a financial advisor. I’m sharing this to educate people on the wide-ranging climate impacts of your cash depending on which bank you use. So, as with all financial decisions, please do your own homework and/or talk to a financial advisor!
Moving your money is a personal decision and there are a lot of things to think about to make sure the bank you choose is right for you. I’ll share how I thought about picking a new bank for me, but everyone has different needs so I would highly recommend you check out Third Act’s “How to Switch to Better Banks & Credit Cards: FAQs” for a more comprehensive overview of factors to consider!
Personally, my top priority was to maximize positive climate impact. And, the way I think about it, there are two key pieces of information you need to know to get a sense of a bank’s climate impact:
- What percent of deposits go to fossil fuels?
- What percent of deposits go to climate solutions?
At the very least, banks calling themselves sustainable should answer the first question with a “0” for fossil fuel financing. And the higher their percentage is for climate solutions, the more climate positive the bank is.
I’d recommend you check out bank.green’s list of sustainable banks to start your search. You can select the country you live in and they’ll share what your best options are!
For people in the US, the list is actually quite long. If it helps, panelists at our Sustainable Banking & Investing webinar the other week gave shout-outs to Amalgamated Bank, Atmos Financial, Clean Energy Credit Union, Clearwater CU, Climate First Bank, Beneficial State Bank, and Sunrise Banks as good options for people to check out.
I can speak to two of those banks from experience.
The first is Amalgamated, which we chose to be Crowdsourcing Sustainability’s bank back in 2020. They’ve been around for 100 years and we’re big fans of their values and positive impact!
The second is Atmos Financial. This is the bank I personally switched to over a year ago because I believe they are the most climate-positive option available.
Reasons I bank with Atmos Financial:
- 100% of my money goes to climate solutions.
- They have a 2.4% interest rate for customers who donate monthly to a climate nonprofit (even if it’s just $1. And instead of charging transaction fees, they give 100% of the donation to climate nonprofits, like Crowdsourcing Sustainability!)
- Smooth online banking experience.
- Gives you cash back on purchases with hundreds of sustainable companies.
- They’re working to change the entire banking industry through their business model. Atmos is FDIC insured through their sponsor, but they’re not technically a bank themselves. This allows them to put 100% of your deposits into climate solutions and help make lots of other banks more sustainable.
The people are great, they’re doing fantastic work, and you can see the impact your money is making right in the app which is pretty cool. My one wish really is that they had a credit card. They say they’re working on one, but right now they only have a debit card.
As mentioned above, there are a lot of good options. If you happen to check out or choose Atmos Financial, please use this link. Crowdsourcing Sustainability is one of their climate nonprofit partners and if you sign up with our link we get $20. Trust me, every little bit helps small and scrappy nonprofits.
If all this info is starting to feel a little overwhelming, here’s a checklist we put together for you 🙂
The above section will be helpful whenever you decide to switch your bank. But I’d encourage you to do it as a part of the major day of action happening on 3.21.23, organized by Third Act! Thousands of people will switch their money at the same time so the biggest, dirtiest banks really feel it. You can sign the “Banking on Our Future Pledge” if you haven’t already and send a letter to your bank when you leave, letting them know why!
And for those who want to make this pressure on banks more visible and raise awareness in your community, check out Third Act’s map to see if there’s an event near you!
If you can’t make it to a local event, we’ve got you covered! Join us on 3.21 for a Move Your Money workshop with THIS! IS What We Did.
Switching your organization’s cash is also critical!
In fact, it’s even more impactful – simply because there’s a lot more of it.
For the first time last year, researchers made a groundbreaking discovery: “climate-leading companies are passively channeling hundreds of billions of dollars a year into the sectors driving the climate crisis” because of which banks they use.
I mentioned it above, but it’s worth repeating:
The report also has ten strategic solutions for employees and their corporations to consider to decarbonize their financial supply chain:
- Demand emissions reporting and transparency.
- Move the money you can.
- Demand measurable and high-impact green bonds.
- Create new climate-friendly financial products.
- Fuel green demand.
- Can’t change banks? Then change your bank.
- Issue a carbon-reduction banking challenge.
- Put high-carbon banks in “the freezer box”.
- Look beyond your cash.
- Model full accountability in accounting.
More details on each solution and much more in the report so definitely check it out!
Two more resources:
- BankFWD has put together a useful resource on “Questions to ask your bank + Explaining this Topic to Finance Teams”.
- Project Drawdown also has a great resource to help people make their finance job a climate job.
So, now that we all know, I believe it’s time for each of us who cares about climate to put our money where our mouth is.
Afterward, you’re going to feel fantastic knowing that your cash is supporting climate solutions rather than climate collapse!
All the best,