Let's talk money and the planet.
“Is your money being used to fund climate chaos?” asks the homepage of Bank.Green. It’s a big question. Founded in 2020 and launched in April, Bank.Green is fighting the climate crisis by exposing just how much private sector banks are complicit in funding large-scale fossil fuel projects.
Like most aspects of sustainability, consumers are looking for more information when it comes to sustainable finance, and in just its first month, start-up Bank.Green saw its bank-checking tool used 28,951 times by visitors looking to find out more about their bank’s climate impact...
Run by a team of volunteers, Zak Gottlieb, one of the cofounders, is using his experience in digital marketing to help people fight climate change through their everyday choices. We chatted with Zak about the origins of Bank.Green, their future plans and the importance of a mindset shift for everyday action.
So how did Bank Green get started?
I used to work with a climate movement and my role there was running the blog. One of the blog writers produced an article called ‘how to stop funding fossil fuels by switching to an ethical bank’ and complained to me that “not enough people are talking about this topic and I don’t know why.”
We realized that this was the lynchpin of the climate crisis: fossil fuel companies wouldn’t exist if they weren’t being financed. If you cut off their funding, you can drastically reduce CO2 emissions and give us a fighting chance of getting out of this mess.
The blog post was very popular and we were seeing growing engagement with this topic so we had an idea to do some kind of action around this. Originally we planned on organising as many people as possible to call their banks to demand that they stop financing fossil fuel companies, but eventually we realized it could be something much bigger.
We wanted as many ordinary people as possible to move their money, so we decided to develop a tool where people can learn how their banks may be complicit - people hear statistics around how there’s been $3.8 trillion lent to fossil fuel companies... but that’s easy to ignore. If we can help people actually see for themselves it’s their own high-street bank, then they can understand how it’s actually their own money that the banks are using to lend to the fossil fuel companies.
Who uses Bank.Green?
A lot of people don’t see themselves as climate activists and we wanted to fill the space between full-fledge activism and those who want to do more but are not sure where to begin. So we're presenting people this option that could have more of an impact than going vegan or stopping flying and only takes a fraction of the time.
We wanted to offer people actions they can take to help put pressure on banks - even if they can’t immediately switch, our website also provides a step by step guide on how to communicate their concerns to their bank as well as a pledge to move their money at a later date.
We’ve heard a lot from sustainable banks who are happy we are doing this and have been acting as 3rd party testimonials essentially. It’s been great to help banks like Triodos in the UK, which is pretty much the gold standard of what a sustainable bank should look like.
How do you vet the sustainable banks you feature?
So far, we’ve been leveraging research that a lot of other great organizations have put together. We have a list of those organizations up in our FAQ for anyone who is interested in learning more.
People have had concerns about the banks on the sustainable side. We feature banks like Triodos that lend to projects that are building a positive future for us as well as financial institutions that merely don’t lend to fossil fuels. We recognize that it’s an important distinction.
Are you planning any Bank Green webinars?
We’ve done one webinar so far. It was part educational: we had our partners from Reclaim Finance and BankTrack give context to what we are doing and brought people up to speed with fossil fuel financing and then the second half of the webinar was the action-oriented ‘what can you do’ side. My cofounder gave a tutorial on how to contact the bank about fossil financing and why this is the most effective way to do something about it. We are hoping to put more on – perhaps to have one similar to the first one we did as a recurring one and then have speakers from various areas complementary to ours in others.
Can you tell me more about Bank Green pledges?
We currently have a pledge form for people to pledge not to fund fossil fuels. The idea is that a visitor can sign the pledge to move their money and then select when they want to be reminded of their pledge if they are not ready to commit right now. We’re trying to get as many people to pledge as possible, as pledges can also act as great publicity to put pressure on the banks.
What would you recommend for those who are looking to start taking action but don’t know where to start?
Instead of a specific action, I think a mindset shift is something to consider. For example, we all know what it's like when someone hasn’t gone to the gym in the longest time but then suddenly says ‘I’m going to get really fit” and they go pedal to the metal, but then they burn out quickly because they’re not used to it and stop. I think this is the mindset to avoid for the sake of ourselves and for climate action!
I’m an advocate for not doing everything to a crazy extreme and the same applies to changes people might make for the planet. A lot of people have the ‘I have to become a saint or it's not worth it’ mindset and I’m definitely not a saint, but I’m already much more conscientious than I was a year or two ago. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Interested in how your bank measures up when it comes to sustainability? Check out your bank’s climate impact at Bank.Green here.