Updated on October 25, 2012
This bank based mainly in Europe – Triodos – claims to be a sustainable one. How?
I came across this article from TreeHugger that inspired me to check out this bank’s website. As someone who is perpetually skeptical regarding just about everything (majoring in science will do that to you), I didn’t believe that what the bank said is really what it does. Lots of companies just say things. Really, they can say whatever they want – as long as it sounds appealing to their target market.
So, I looked through the website.
“Our mission is to use the money entrusted to us by savers and investors to work for positive social, environmental and cultural change.”
Well, they basically make judgment calls on the businesses they invest in. If said business doesn’t appear to be doing something “good” or “sustainable”, something that is ethically correct or advances society in a productive and positive way – Triodos does not give them money.
From their site, they DO NOT lend to:
- Non-sustainable products and services : This includes all businesses involved in producing or trading in weapons, tobacco, pornography, fur or environmentally hazardous substances. It also covers the gambling industry.
- Non-sustainable working processes : This covers everything from animal testing and inhumane farming methods, through corruption and support for dictatorial regimes, to breaches of fundamental labour rights.
I like so far what I’m reading….
But, who is making those decisions over there in Europe? Good and bad are subjective terms, and you can’t just say “sustainable” or “eco-friendly”, those are just fluffy happy words that don’t mean anything factual. What criteria are they using for these determinations?
I scrolled down a bit to find out that you can read Triodos’ detailed criteria for lending. I think this is the closest you’re going to get without actually working for the company to knowing how they make these types of determinations. Check it out here. They even go as far to investigate labor rights and environmental legislation. Nice.
Another impressive thing about Triodos is that they annually disclose every single loan they have given out. You can go to their site and see each project or business they have invested in. It’s quite fun, actually.
Why is this relevant? Because you, as a bank customer, are giving your money to a bank. Don’t you want to know what they are doing with it? Don’t you want them loaning it to something that is transparent and good? Yes, of course you do. Traditional banks do not disclose their loan information to the public. There’s a reason for that (privacy and lots of angry customers). I assume part of the deal of getting a loan from Triodos is that you will have to be publicly announced.
What really got me was their description of their corporate culture. I have had an increasing interest in this lately, because I feel that aside from teaching children starting at infancy about the importance of sustainability and environmental stewardship, encouraging work habits that are in line with these ideas is one of the most crucial steps towards changing people’s behavior.
Most people who work full-time spend a lot of time physically at work. Maybe even most of their time. If you spend a lot of time doing things a certain way at work, these habits will begin to trickle into your personal life, thereby influencing those closest to you like your family and friends, and then their friends and acquaintances, and so on. Triodos not only encourages a “green” work environment, but rewards those who practice it. They pay for you to take public transportation, they offset the cost of a move if you want to live closer to the office (less commuting), and apparently, they minimize the difference between the highest and the lowest salaries. This last point is similar to the Japanese structure of corporate hierarchy- the CEO only gets paid slightly more than the entry-level worker – completely different from here.
Why is this beneficial? Because it encourages camaraderie and strengthens the team. There is less of a disconnect. The CEO is not superior because of his salary – he’s superior because he is more experienced and you can learn something from him. Equity – get it? This is one of the major issues surrounding the recent “Occupy” protests going on around the world. It might just be solved with new methods of business structure. Do you want the interest you’re paying on your loan lining the pockets of CEO’s who already exponentially earn more than what their job description calls for? Of course you don’t. That money could be going towards something more productive and beneficial to humanity as a whole. This is where ethical business practices come in – and a part of that is a salary structure which promotes equity among employees.
But I digress….
It seems that even a bank can take meaningful steps towards becoming sustainable and supporting a better world.
I was so taken with Triodos, that I sent them my resume and cover letter. I would love to work for a company like this. Wish me luck!