Triodos: Banking on Positive Change

Last year I attended my bank's annual general meeting (AGM). This was no ordinary AGM, but then Triodos is no ordinary bank. I was treated to an organic lunch and a talk by British environmentalist George Monbiot who questioned the sustainability of ANY bank, ethical or not. His reasoning was that lending with interest inevitably leads to economic growth, and economic growth was ultimately unsustainable. He didn't seem to believe you could decouple economic capital from natural capital (thoughts anyone?). He did, however, concede that Triodos was a necessary stepping stone towards a sustainable society. So what is Triodos, and what sets it apart from other "ethical" banks such as the Co-operative bank, previously featured here?Triodos Bank was formed in the Netherlands in 1980 and has since grown tremendously. It now has offices in the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and Spain, with a branch expected in Germany in the near future. According to its 2005 annual report, funds under the bank's management grew by 25% last year alone, from 1.8 billion to 2.3 billion euros. The core idea behind the bank is that it not only refuses to invest in unethical operations (tobacco, arms trade, fossil fuels etc), but it also demands that a project has positive social or ecological value before it can be considered for a loan. Areas of investment include organic and biodynamic farming, renewable energy (especially community-owned wind power), micro-finance, fair trade, social housing, and care for people with special needs. In addition to its standard banking products, the bank offers tailored savings accounts, whereby customers can choose where their money goes — a customer with a particular concern about climate change, for example, can choose an "Earth Saver" account, guaranteeing that their money is used to fund renewable energy projects.

Not only does the bank offer ethical peace of mind to its customers, it also turns out that they offer a pretty healthy rate of interest and excellent customer service, earning them a recent Guardian Consumer Finance Award. I am sure that the sustainability, or otherwise, of economic growth will continue to be debated by treehuggers for years to come. However, I for one am delighted to know exactly what my money is doing whilst we wait for the debate to be settled. I'm also wandering what's for lunch at next year's AGM... [Written by: Sami Grover]