​What do polar bears have to do with where you save your money?

By Dec 14, 2015

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As the final episode of David Attenborough’s latest documentary series The Hunt epically portrayed, climate change is now the single biggest threat to polar bears. So what on earth do polar bears have to do with where you save your money?

The Arctic is warming roughly twice as fast as the global average, causing the ice that polar bears depend on to melt away. As the sea ice melts earlier and forms later each year, polar bears have less time to hunt. Many scientists believe polar bears could be gone from most of their current range within 100 years.

So what do polar bears have to do with where you save your money?

Banks play a pivotal role in directing money across the globe. A core part of their business involves gathering deposits from individuals and companies and using the money to make loans, helping organisations to finance their activities.

Here’s where polar bears come into it. . .


What do banks do with your money?

When money leaves a bank, it can be invested in an array of businesses and industries, some positive others destructive.

When money funnels into industries like fossil fuels, its primary purpose is to generate profit, often at the expense of communities, wildlife and the environment. As our banks seek only to maximise profit, we can end up unknowingly supporting activities we would never endorse among friends and family. And polar bears are just one party suffering the consequences.

Ethical banking gives money a moral compass. When guided by good intentions, money embarks on a journey to care for and protect people and the wonders of nature.

The sustainable alternative

For ethical banks, a focus on financial return alone is a short-sighted and inadequate means of building a more sustainable world: a world with less poverty, injustice, war, inequality and destruction of nature and the planet. The sustainable alternative is an approach to banking based on the triple bottom line, looking after people, planet and profit.

The Global Alliance for Banking on Values argues that values in banking are not only crucial to building a better world they are also a sensible business decision. Its 2012 study highlighted the financial strength of ethical banks, which had:

  • higher levels of, and better quality, capital
  • were twice as likely to invest their assets in loans
  • earned higher financial returns: (Return on assets averaged 0.50%, against 0.33% of large banks and returns on equity averaged 7.1%, compared to 6.6%)

Ethical banks show that the story of banking can change. And that story starts with banks considering social and environmental values as core to their business.

Finding ethical banking options

Recent research into ethical banking has made it easier for consumers to choose their banks according to their ethics. The Good Shopping Guide, for example, has created a banking league table, which rates banks on their environmental and social performance, “penalising those which have invested in projects that have caused outrage among environmental and human rights campaigners.”

There are a growing number of online guides and websites aimed at helping people explore ways of investing or saving their personal finances whilst having a positive impact on people, communities and our environment. Some good places to start include The Good Shopping Guide, Move Your Money, Good With Money, Ethical Consumer, Blue and Green Tomorrow and Pioneers Post.

WWF also have a great tool you can use to calculate your ecological footprint and learn about how your living habits can help shape a future where people and nature thrive.