Model and activist Lily Cole has joined the call for the banking sector to respond to the climate emergency, alongside ethical bank Triodos.
Following the global climate strike and with Extinction Rebellion’s next uprising fast approaching, pressure is building for the banking sector to live up to its climate commitments.
According to NGO BankTrack, the top UK banks have poured nearly £150 billion into financing fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2016, including £45bn for the expansion of fossil fuels, of which £13bn was invested in fracking. Change from the sector is required, especially if we are to meet the UK government’s target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
New research by insight agency Kingfisher, which assessed more than 800 web pages, has found that UK banks are presenting a confusing and conflicting account of their sustainability initiatives to customers, despite public concern for climate change reaching a record high in recent months.
The report, commissioned by Triodos Bank UK, found that the biggest UK high street banks share very little information on sustainability ambitions on their customer-facing websites and only present generalised statements, claims and commitments.
UN Sustainable Development Goals are not mentioned once by the UK’s biggest banks, while the term ‘sustainability’ occurs only four times.
The report also found that, collectively, the biggest UK banks only mention the term ‘planet’ three times on their websites. One high street bank references its sustainability commitments repeatedly, while at the same time continuing to finance fossil fuels to the tune of £47 billion since 2016.
Two high street banks do not mention any of the key terms analysed – green, sustainability, SDG, planet or carbon – on their UK retail banking websites. By contrast, leading UK banks prioritise the terms ‘rewards’, ‘fees’, ‘risks’ and ‘services’, over words like ‘sustainability’ and ‘impact’.
Actress and social entrepreneur Lily Cole commented: “I’ve long believed in voting with your wallet for the change you want to see in the world, for example supporting Fairtrade and organic food and fashion, yet there are other subtle and powerful ways that our money shapes the world – such as the investments made by our banks, pensions and the institutions we work with.
“When Triodos launched a current account in the UK, I immediately joined the bank, as I didn’t want to be accidentally investing in the arms trade and fossil fuel industry, and instead enjoy knowing that Triodos is mindful about investing in a positive vision for our planet.”
CEO of Triodos Bank UK, Bevis Watts, adds: “We are in a state of climate emergency and the banking industry needs to radically transform to be part of the solution. Banks should be using the money deposited with them in their customers’ long term interests – yet many have continued to prioritise funding the fossil fuel industry, despite its devastating impact on the planet and our future wellbeing.
"Although we’re aware that the change cannot happen overnight, we’d like to see greater transparency from all banks in where they are investing their money, so that customers can make informed choices.
“We want more people to know that switching banks is one of the most powerful environmental changes you can make as an individual – by changing your bank you really can make a difference in the world. You can choose to prevent your money from financing arms, pesticides, plastic packaging or fossil fuels.”
CEO of Friends of the Earth, Craig Bennett said: “Too many UK banks are failing to take the climate emergency seriously. How can they talk about wanting to serve society while investing in planet-wrecking projects such as fossil fuel extraction? Funding the destruction of our planet is certainly not in the best interest of customers.
“It’s great to see Triodos continuing to shine a light on the unethical finance models of many UK banks, and we’re proud as an organisation to be partnered with them. By empowering people to do good with their finances, we can create positive environmental outcomes, and put pressure on other banks to change their practices.”
Triodos Bank, which has been operating in the UK for over 24 years, only invests in projects creating positive social and environmental outcomes. Its UK current account launched in 2017 and customers can instantly see details of all the ethical and sustainable businesses and projects Triodos finances across the UK via its ‘Know where your money goes’ platform.
Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on a press release from Triodos Bank.