Capitalism got you down?
Corporate America harshing the mellow of your well-meaning sustainability crusade?
Fear not, fellow Reductionist. You don’t need to live off-grid, check out of society, or use twigs and berries in lieu of cold, hard cash.
There are loads of ways to save, spend, and invest real money that won’t compromise your green lifestyle. In fact, you could even help the environment just by being a savvy consumer. Below are five ways to do so.
Bank With Green Credit Unions
Credit unions are member-owned financial cooperatives interested in helping people more than they are concerned about maximizing profits. Which makes them great places to park your cash if you’re into social justicey things like equity and fairness.
Unlike your average bank, which shells out dividends to the corporate one-percenters in charge, a credit union pays its lowly members any dividends it earns; also great for 99-percenters like you and me.
They offer checking accounts, credit cards and savings options for personal or business needs, just like ordinary banks. But their minimum amounts to open are usually way less, and they have fair options for people with horrible credit and high debt.
Traditional credit unions are typically hyper-local and profession-specific. They’re not-for-profit and are democratically-run. Meaning you can apply to become a member and open an account just because of where you live or work, and once you’re in, you get to vote for the board of directors who’ll run things.
See? You can have the power.
Credit unions typically have lower rates on loans, too, and higher interest rates on savings than banks do. They have low fees for services and are known around the world for offering better, more personalized customer service than your average corporate bank.
I’m not a finance expert, but I have enjoyed credit union membership throughout my lifetime, and I can vouch for them being sensible, reliable places to save and borrow from.
And now, green credit unions are sprouting up across the country, and they specialize in sustainable enterprises. How cool is that?!
Take Clean Energy Credit Union, based out of Colorado. They operate to “promote clean energy, environmental stewardship, and cooperative enterprises…”
They do so by financing loans for people who want to outfit their homes with solar panels or purchase an electric vehicle, for example. I love this. Industry is finally listening to the needs of the people, and it’s a huge step in the right direction.
There’s one small hoop you have to jump through to join Clean Energy Credit Union, which is to first sign up for membership to a thing called ASES, otherwise known as the American Solar Energy Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization “that advocates for sustainable living and 100% renewable energy.” But Clean Energy CU provides a discount coupon code right on their website that gets you into ASES for a mere $10. And then you get a magazine. Hopefully it’s digital.
While I adore regular ol’ credit unions, I want to see more offering sustainable activity-specific loans and membership options. How about one that will finance a loan only if you prove you’ve changed every lightbulb in your house to LED? How about one that requires an oath of environmental consciousness to join? Or where the credit union will plant a tree every time you use one of its ATMs?
Responsible Credit Cards
Tired of hearing your credit card company’s name in the news uttered in the same breath as phrases like “insider trading,” “fraud,” and “lawsuit”? Me, too.
Then switch to a green—or at least socially responsible—credit card.
Green America, a nonprofit that exists “to harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society,” offers a comprehensive list of responsible credit cards you can switch to.
These are available to consumers like you and me because they hear that we’re tired of corporate fat-cats making bazillions off of exploitative practices like fossil fuel over-consumption and unfair wages for their overworked employees. Huzzah!
Socially Conscious Banks
Not sure if your bank is one of those whose CEO is getting Champagne-tipsy off the fees you pay for the luxury of swiping your debit card at the grocery store? It just might be, and if that makes your blood boil like it does mine, try switching to a bank with a conscience.
Nerd Wallet offers a list of socially responsible banks that provide savings, checking and loan services just like any other bank, just without the diamonds and caviar for their CEOs.
Take Aspiration, an online-only bank that donates ten cents for every dollar of revenue to charity, and then they let you donate to the cause of your choice through your own account. Which means you can help fund anything that matters to you, with corporate America’s seal of approval.
But that might sound radical. So, because Green America gets that it’s hard to change old habits and disrupt existing systems, they give us step-by-step instructions on how to “Break Up With Your Mega-Bank.” Like that D-bag you dumped in high school, surprisingly, dumping your bank is easier than it seems.
Buy Through Certified B Corps
What do all these eco-conscious, socially responsible financial institutions have in common? They’re Certified B Corporations, or “businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”
Certified by B Lab, a nonprofit that does administration, technology and governance advocacy work, Certified B Corps have all met rigorous specifications. B Lab evaluates their business models, operations, employee benefits, supply chain and service models and more, all with an eye toward each company’s environmental impact and overall social consciousness.
If you care how the companies with whom you do business carry out their services, it’s worth it to examine whether their practices meet the Certified B Corp standards. Here’s a directory listing every single one.
What’s In Your Portfolio?
If you dabble in the stock market, talk to your financial planner about investing in renewables. While money managers often recommend investing in fossil fuel-burning power companies, tobacco producers or toxic chemical peddlers, they only do so because, frankly, those portfolios do generate money for investors.
But if having a clear conscience trumps the almighty dollar and you still want a piece of the stock market pie, choose a portfolio that steers clear of harmful industries. Plenty exist that invest in clean energy like solar, wind, geothermal, or green batteries.
Note: these environmentally-oriented portfolios don’t perform as well, generally, as standard ones. Go figure. Green industries haven’t quite caught up to the mainstream…yet.
Exhibit A: The Invesco WilderHill Clean Energy Portfolio, which says it “tracks a modified equal-weighted index of companies involved in cleaner energy sources or energy conservation.”
This portfolio includes companies like Ballard Power Systems, provider of clean energy fuel cells, and Itron, Inc., a smart-cities consulting and management group. While the portfolio appears to do fairly well, generally, it’s down a smidge as of this writing. But choosing from a menu like this one at least doesn’t make you feel icky.
Besides, projections in the renewable energy department are looking up, says the latest report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Wind and solar are set to surge to almost ‘50 by 50’,” they say. “That’s 50% of world generation by 2050 – on the back of precipitous reductions in cost, and the advent of cheaper and cheaper batteries that will enable electricity to be stored and discharged to meet shifts in demand and supply. Coal shrinks to just 11% of global electricity generation by 2050.”
So get in there early and start investing your green in green now! And, as my financial planner always says, don’t freak out when you see the lines on that chart take a nose dive, because they always go back up…eventually.
2020 Update: For more insights into responsible banking in the age of coronavirus and beyond, check out Green banking: 7 simple ways you can help protect the environment from our friends at Bankrate.com!
The Reductionist is not an expert in banking, finance, or money management. If you choose to follow the suggestions listed here, you do so at your own discretion and do not hold The Reductionist liable for any risk assumed by you.
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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