5 financial institutions rethinking the banking sector

We've talked before about conceptual alternatives to the cult of GDP. If we're going to rethink our approach to economics, though, we must also rethink our approach to the institutions that are in the business of moving our money around. It's true that many mainstream banks have dipped a toe in the water of greener offerings, but there are also pioneers around the world who are pursuing a more radical, systemic change to what a truly responsible bank might look like and how it operates.

The Global Alliance for Banking on Values was founded in 2009 as a means to bring environmentally and socially responsible banks and financial institutions from across the Globe together to explore different approaches, learn from each other, and provide a collective voice for a more inclusive, more responsible financial industry. Now totaling 25 institutions, we thought we'd take a look at a few members and their approach to banking. The GABV website has a more detailed exploration of each member institution.

First Green Bank
When Ken LaRoe sold Florida Choice Bank in 2006, he set off on a road trip across America while reading “Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard. When he returned, he set about building a new bank. In 2009, First Green Bank was born. Serving both business and individual customers, and offering standard banking products including checking accounts, savings accounts, Money Market accounts, Certificates of Deposit, and Merchant Card Services, First Green is, in many ways, like any other bank.

What sets them apart, however, is their commitment to environmental measures within their own operations—including energy efficiency and green building measures at their corporate locaions and zero interest loans to employees for efficient vehicle purchases—as well as reduced-rate commercial and consumer loans for green building projects and hybrid vehicle purchases.

All loan officers are also LEED-accredited professionals, with a view to better serving the green building market.

Triodos Bank
Triodos Bank/Video screen capture
The Netherlands-based Triodos Bank crops up regularly here on TreeHugger. Whether it's their Times Square stunt calling for "more happiness, less greed", or their unwavering commitment to only lend to projects that provide environmental or social returns, in addition to economic ones, Triodos has gone a long way toward reshaping our concept of what a bank should look like.

OnePacificCoast Bank
© OnePacificCoast Bank
Banking is still a largely white, male dominated industry. That lack of diversity works its way down to the communities that traditional banks serve—or at least serve well. OnePacificCoast Bank was set up to provide banking services to small to medium-size businesses, non-profit organizations, community facilities, affordable-housing developers, individuals and families in low- to moderate-income communities in California. And they aim to do all this while promoting sustainable businesses, building projects and neighborhood stabilization efforts.

Vision Banco
© Global Alliance for Banking Values
When we talk about green banking, there's a tendency to focus on institutions in wealthy countries, making loans to the wealthy to finance clean energy, energy efficiency, and other high cost initiatives. But from Grameen Bank to MicroEnergy Credits, we've seen how innovations in microfinance are at least as important a piece of the banking sustainability puzzle. Since it began operating in 1992, Vision Banco has pursued a mission of providing financial services to individuals, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as communities and non-profit organizations. The company was the the first Paraguayan private financial company to present a sustainability report.

Ecology Building Society
© Ecology Building Society
The idea for the UK-based Ecology Building Society came out of a Green Party meeting in 1980, when someone complained about the difficulty of getting a loan for a green renovation project. Since then, the business has grown incrementally—offering savings accounts and then using the deposits from those accounts to lend exclusively to green building projects, renovations, energy efficiency improvements and intentional communities. In addition to the positive attributes of projects that the building society will lend on, there are certain things that it just won't fund—including properties where intensive agricultural practices are being used, and vacation homes are also considered a no-no due to their impact on rural communities.

Tags: Communities | Corporate Responsibility | Economics | Finances

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