According to a recent study by Javelin Strategy and Research, bank customers want green banking. 43% of customers polled said they would rather do business with a bank that seems more “green.” But many big banks are trying to paint themselves green simply by promoting an online billing system.
It is true that monthly paper statements have a big impact on the environment. If every household in the US were able to switch to paperless billing, this would save an estimated 16.5 million trees per year or about 46,000 acres (averaging 360 trees per acre). Trees protect watersheds, support wildlife habitats, and build soil fertility while sequestering carbon (deforestation is now the second leading cause of global warming).
But there’s a problem here.
While we can all agree that preventing deforestation by encouraging paperless billing is great for the environment, the implication that by doing so, a bank is obviated from its environmental responsibility and can now call itself “green” strains credibility. What does it matter if you save a few thousand trees in North America while funding dirty coal operations or deforestation in the Congo (you can go to Greendig.net to find out which banks they are)?
Fortunately, there are some Real Green Banks who, despite the economic downturn, are posting healthy profits and offering their customers amazing interest rates. Take ShoreBank for example.
ShoreBank has operated for over 30 years based upon the principles of green banking (long before paperless bills even existed!) and they offer an investment model that hopefully many banks will follow – TPL, or “triple bottom line.” The guiding philosophy of TBL is that, in addition to bringing financial profits to the company, they must ensure both the community and the environment also profit. To that end, they partnered with Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to help create the Grameen Bank which has lifted literally millions out of poverty through micro-lending.
Their foundation in “good old fashioned banking,” as founder and CEO Ron Grzywinski calls it, has allowed them to escape the trap of quarterly earning reports and over-leveraged debts that got so many other banks in trouble. And they now offer one of the highest yield online savings accounts in the US. You get 3.5% (up to $250,000 insured by FDIC) and the nice feeling of knowing that all your money is going to help build the green economy.
To me that’s the direction real “green banking” needs to take.