Sustainability is quickly becoming the main factor when choosing a bank. The financial sector plays an important role in encouraging environmentally friendly and sustainable investments. Transparency, implementation of eco-friendly strategies and reduction of the carbon footprint is what inspires banks today.
For a long time, sustainability was not a word being used in the finance and banking sector. However, more and more banks are beginning to become part of the green movement. The change in social values as well as international initiatives have been generating a more sustainable mindset in the industry. Banks can strengthen their competitiveness by positioning themselves in an environment that is consistently aligning their business models with the criteria for sustainability. Thus, today over 80 percent of banks worldwide are following more responsible strategies with environmental or social purposes in place of nontransparent and unsustainable business models and investments (Mercer).
With the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris climate goals and the EU Commission's “Green Deal” for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, sustainable finance is not only a priority for banks, but is essential for Europe to meet these goals (pwc).
But what does that mean for the consumer? As a consumer we seek for being part of the bigger picture, that our decisions contribute to making the world a better place. Banks, in addition to many other aspects, have an important role to play in our day-to-day lives. Which bank goes the extra mile beyond paper-free-statements and is powering a greener, more equitable economy? Here are some examples that are accessible within Europe:
As the first social-ecological bank in Germany, GLS supports projects and businesses like organic farms, institutions for natural health, communal housing projects and sustainable educational institutions. Beyond this, the bank also offers a crowdfunding-platform for community development initiatives. The consumer can choose which project they would like to invest in with their money in their account.
The European bank Triodos, with branches in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany, focusses on investments in renewable energies, educational projects, nursing homes and eco-friendly agriculture. For example, their credit cards are made of bioplastics. Triodos’ loans are only granted for specific, sustainable purposes that are being processed transparently.
Specialized on a younger, more mobile consumer, the fintech-startup Tomorrow Bank was founded in 2018. The mobile app shows the consumer their impact on the banks’ climate protection projects in developing countries: with each Euro spent, the bank protects 1 m² of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. With an upgrade to a paid account the bank enables the consumer’s offset of their carbon footprint. In December 2020 they launched one of the world's first wooden bank card.
The 2002 founded EthikBank is strictly against the investment of their customer’s money in the arms industry, nuclear power or businesses that support child labor. In fact, the bank supports their customers by offering competitive loans for sustainable home construction including solar energy, tiny houses or other ecologically friendly home ownership possibilities. Additionally, the bank supports ethical, women’s rights and environmental projects with their funds.
The conservation of the environment is one of the main goals of the 1997 founded Umweltbank. The bank invests their customer’s money into climate change by supporting projects in the field of renewable energy, ecological housing and agriculture. Each euro spent is being used for these projects – from wooden houses to solar farms.
You may be asking: how can I invest in an eco-friendlier future? All banks use money that the consumer puts in their account for investments. Unlike traditional banks, these deposits are being invested into sustainably friendly projects such as renewable energy or microcredit organizations. Additionally, with every purchase, the merchant pays a percentage to the bank. Ideally, this money is not being put in the bank’s own account but invested into the aforementioned purposes. Some mobile banking apps even allow the account holders to track their direct impact. These investments are made based on strict criteria following the ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) requirements. A high transparency enables a better understanding for the consumer about which transactions their bank is involved in.
Climate change and the current pandemic have proven once again that the economy must change its way of business. A commitment to sustainability is equally as important as profitability and, in the right environment, can be a significant and powerful agent of change. Without it, there is no reason to believe a bank can stand out from the competition and open new business strategies within this increasingly complex environment. Therefore, the financial industry must rethink their customer’s expectations, their diversity of thought and their access to technology – a new approach to business.
– by Marie Klimczak