Sustainable banking: Keeping your money AND the planet safe

 

Money moves the world, and money pollutes the earth – does it have to? As soon as you have money in a bank, the decision-making about what your money is invested in is pretty much out of your hands. Or do you know what exactly your money is used for? However, it does not have to be this way. There are a number of banks that seek to employ money for socially and environmentally sustainable projects instead of choosing the traditional profit-making businesses – namely, war-making and exploitation of human and natural resources. This means that by choosing the right bank, you can influence how your money is impacting the planet.

In the past, SOGH has focused on the human aspect of health. However, human health is intertwined with the health of our planet, which is why we have to discuss global health in terms of planetary health as well. When we started discussions around planetary health internally, questions were raised, such as: How can we, as a global health organization, make sure that our work is done in the most sustainable way with the least harm to the planet?

One of the things we started to look into specifically was what is done with the unspent funds and donations kept in our bank account. To know more about how money is invested and what companies have been granted loans from our bank, we used the Fair Finance Guide of SIDA. The guide rates banks based on the investigation of nine core themes: Climate Change; Corruption; Human Rights; Labor rights; Nature; Tax; Arms; Transparency; Gender but also other topics such as health. It was quickly clear that the bank we are using – which is one of the largest banks in Sweden – is investing 11 times more in fossil fuels such as oil and coal than in clean, renewable energy. The bank has also invested in companies and projects connected to violations of the rights of indigenous people and the devastation of forests.

Clearly, our conclusion was that aligning to our principles and Environmental Sustainability Policy, we must switch to a bank that invests in socially and ecologically responsible projects instead. Unfortunately, it turned out to be much more difficult than expected: despite Sweden being a comparably reflective and future-driven country, there are only two banks that have committed to having a positive impact: Ekobanken and JAK. These banks are so called member-owned financial cooperative banks and are still in their infancy. 

On the one hand, it means that as a member, and customer, you really have an impact and decision-making power. On the other hand, this means that they lack a number of services that we, as a relatively small but transnational organization, are dependent on. Such as supporting Swish for receiving donations, or offering international transfers. There are of course solutions to bystep some of these inconveniences, like using transferwise (now called wise) to transfer money overseas, or having people donate in alternative ways. But when it comes to the donations, Swish has become a well-established and accepted tool. As a small non-governmental organization, we are highly dependent on donations to ensure the continuation of our projects. We are, therefore, resistant to risk losing donations by making it less convenient for people to donate.

Despite this being a very sobering experience for us, we don’t want to give up just yet. We want to use this opportunity to open up the discussion and find out if others have encountered similarly frustrating experiences while trying to make the ‘right’ choice. Let’s start a conversation and together explore the opportunities that are out there. Let’s not just give up but spread the word about such limitations and collectively push for change. Together we can put more pressure on the large banks to see their part in contributing to global health. Have a look at the Fair Finance Guide or similar resources to see how your bank is performing in regard to human rights, social justice and environmental sustainability, and send them an email to show that as a customer you are not willing to support their questionable practices. If enough of us care and act on it, we can make a difference!

Are you using a green bank account yet? Thinking about switching? Please share your thoughts, experiences, or any challenges you might have encountered as an organization or individual when opting for the sustainable choice in our comment section below.

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By: Hanna Carlson and Christina Boger