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How to Protect the Environment through Banking Choices

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If you care about the environment, you’re probably doing what you can to preserve natural resources and reduce fossil fuel use. Maybe you’re recycling and using energy efficient lighting. Maybe you’re even sharing rides to save gas. You may buy environmentally friendly products and, if you’re really serious about how to protect the environment, invest in companies and options that are kind to the planet.

There are a lot of ways to use your energy and resources to protect the environment and work toward a healthier and happier globe. One of those ways is to keep your money in a credit union or bank that is committed to environmental prosperity.


What do financial institutions have to do with the health and prosperity of our environment?

As you know, credit unions and banks have money. If you have money saved in one of these institutions, some of it is yours. A lot of the money financial institutions take in is loaned to businesses and to other members or customers. Some is, of course, used to support operations. Some is invested, with the intent to earn dividends. And some portion may be directed toward causes that are aligned with the institution’s mission or vision.


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How to protect the environment: Are your financial institution’s decisions important?

Money is power – it allows people and businesses to meet their needs and act on their beliefs. We see the effects of this power every day in the news and simply by walking down Main Street and seeing which interests are represented by each shop. Your credit union or bank has a lot of power in determining who has access to money, which means they determine which ideas and businesses are empowered.

The decision of whether to loan or not is initially based on the viability of the business or the potential for the member or customer to pay back borrowed funds. In cases where there is no question about the financial health of the business or person, the bank generally makes the loan. In more uncertain cases, however, the credit union or bank must make a decision. These are the times when your financial institution can decide to take a chance on a loan to an individual who is investing in energy savings for her home, or in businesses that are committed to fostering a greener planet by protecting the environment.


Q: What types of business does your credit union or bank take a chance on?

Financial institutions can also use your money to benefit the planet by investing in environmentally friendly securities. As green energy and green products become more popular, and green investments similarly increase, you may hear more about these investments and that they generate a triple bottom line, which is “good for people, wallets, AND the environment.” So how does your financial institution use its profits? You may have to do some digging to find out how your credit union or bank invests their funds, but those that invest in activities that support the environment are likely to share that information when asked.


Q: How does your financial institution respond to questions about their investment practices?

Another way that financial institutions can green up the planet with your money is by donating to environmentally responsible organizations and initiatives. This is often the most visible investment your credit union or bank will make and finding information about their giving practices should be easy.


Q: Does your financial institution invest in organizations that protect our natural resources?

In addition to the investments they make, credit unions and banks may build high-performing, energy-efficient buildings and retrofit older buildings with energy efficiency upgrades and technology. They may encourage employees to take advantage of ride-sharing, make it easy to recycle, conserve water, and make any number of additional accommodations that simplify conservation and efficiency for employees.


What steps can you take to ensure your money is used to support the environment?

If the environment is important to you, you can reach out to your financial institution to ask questions about their environmental efforts. If you’re not happy with the answer you get, it may be time to switch accounts. Or it may be time to speak up and let them know that the environment is important to you and you’d be happier banking with them if they were committed to supporting clean energy and environmentally-sound practices and investments. Invoicing your concern for the planet, you may just make a lasting change in how your financial institution uses its power to make a positive impact on the environment.

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About Laurie Fielder

Laurie directs VSECU’s statewide VGreen energy savings loan program. Previously, she worked for the weatherization program at the Central Vermont Community Action Council (now Capstone), and for a successful residential solar installer. She enjoys helping Vermonters learn about efficiency and renewable financing options that maximize the savings of these smart investments. She lives in Woodbury with her family and enjoys the outdoors, walking the dog, and tackling home improvement projects.
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