How to Find a Green and Ethical Financial Institution

You’re living green and want to find a financial institution that embraces green and ethical action in every facet of its operations. You need to match the institution — whether it’s a bank, credit union, or other entity — with your personal standards for what’s socially and environmentally responsible.

The United Nations Global Compact is a voluntary initiative that provides an excellent guideline when you’re considering which standards to ask of your financial institution. The Global Compact asks businesses to follow these principles:

  • Human rights: Businesses should support and respect human rights and ensure that they’re not complicit in human rights abuses.

  • Labor standards: Businesses should uphold the right of freedom of association and collective bargaining and should eliminate all forms of forced labor, child labor, and discrimination.

  • Environment: Businesses should take a precautionary approach to environmental challenges and support initiatives that encourage greater environmental responsibility and environmentally friendly technologies.

  • Corruption: Businesses should work against corruption in all forms.

So, you may be looking for a financial institution that doesn’t lend money to or invest in companies that use factories that don’t provide reasonable working conditions for workers; that has proactive antidiscrimination policies for its own operation; that fully supports as many environmentally friendly measures as possible in its own operation and in its funding of other businesses or organizations; and that has a written code of ethics that it abides by.

The following financial institutions are just a few examples of the green- and community-focused options increasingly being found across the United States; you can find equally good institutions throughout the country:

  • Chittenden: A Vermont-based bank, Chittenden places a high priority on community development initiatives, including socially responsible banking. Customers can opt for a lower interest rate on savings, for example, to provide interest rate discounts for borrowers such as community groups, small family farms, and conservation groups.

  • Permaculture Credit Union: Headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Permaculture brings together customer-members who support the concept of permaculture, which includes care of the Earth, care of people, and the reinvestment of surplus to benefit the Earth and its people. The credit union supports the local community, including offering loans for fuel-efficient vehicles and energy conservation measures at home.

  • ShoreBank: Established in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and the Pacific Northwest, ShoreBank supports sustainable development in many ways, even employing an environmental scientist to advise customers on green issues from wetlands development to energy efficiency. The bank offers options such as using online banking and a check card instead of paper checks to reduce paper use.

  • Wainwright Bank & Trust: Based in Boston, the Wainwright Bank & Trust Company focuses on social justice and community development issues, including supporting affordable housing, the environment, women’s issues, health services, the hungry and the homeless, diversity and non-discrimination, and social activism.

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