How to bank ethically to help the environment: a summary of UK climate friendly banks

Are you fed up with the banks using your hard earned cash to fund the climate crisis? Ready to bank your money on a more environmentally friendly bank account instead?

Let’s be straight: I am no financial adviser. I’m a 38-year-old English writer and mum-of-one with an average ability to manage my money wisely and minimal commitment to change my financial habits (because it’s ‘too hard’ ‘takes too long’, ‘I’d rather drink wine’ etc, etc.).

But I realise — as I watch countless news reports on the Australian bushfires, floods in the UK and the world’s creeping loss of biodiversity — that I can no longer sit idly by as my money is invested in fossil fuels if I want to be the environmental campaigner I claim to be. 

Scientists say we need to keep fossil fuels firmly in the ground if we are to avert irreparable damage to our planetary ecosystem. But so many banks continue to finance new fossil fuel projects. So no more banking badly. I need to invest more wisely if I genuinely care for the climate.

What follows is the late-night research I’ve pulled together to help ensure my paycheck – and yours – works to help the environment, not kill it.

Is my bank funding climate change?

Since 2016, UK banks have poured almost £150bn into fossil fuel projects and continue to finance firms driving significant rainforest deforestation.

Highstreet banks including RBS Group (Coutts, Ulster Bank, RBS, NatWest), Barclays, Santander, HSBC and Citibank funds extreme fossil fuels, like tar sands, Arctic oil and coal mining. On the latter issue HSBC, Standard Chartered, Barclays and RBS have funded new coal plants to the tune of £25 billion since 2015. The top three banks fuelling climate change worldwide are JP Morgan Chase, Citi and Bank of America.

Was some of that wedge from your wallet?! The best thing to do is to check where your money is going. Unearthed is a good source of information as is the Rainforest Action Network, which provides a full breakdown of banks’ fossil fuel funding. Market Forces have a full list of Australian banks’.

What is the ethical alternative to high street banks?

First off, be aware the word ethical can mean several things.  In finance terms it means the bank has rules and policies to ensure they have no negative impact on four key areas: the environment, animal rights, politics and human rights. I had no idea about this before I started so it’s worth researching exactly how much the bank benefits the climate if your focus is the planet – not forgetting though of course that many of those areas are intrinsically connected.

Ethical banks offer similar products and services to ordinary highstreet banks, but they vary in how they avoid supporting businesses that follow unethical practices, like supplying fossil fuels, animal testing or enabling child labour. They may invest your money in causes that have a more positive social and environmental impact, such as renewable energy sources or help for poor communities. 

Which ethical banks are best for the environment?

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

The current account options that aren’t burdened with a load of fossils are those offered by Triodos, Nationwide and Cumberland Building Societies, Co-operative Bank and Metro Bank, according to Ethical Consumer magazine. Clydesdale/Yorkshire Bank were also listed in the report, but they are soon to go under a Virgin Money takeover.

I give a more in depth version of each of their environmental credentials below, along with a low down on which one may be better for your pocket, but before I do, it’s worth knowing the difference between building societies and banks. I didn’t know this myself before I started this research, but building societies do not invest members’ money in stocks and shares, therefore many of the issues normally associated with ethical investment do not apply to them. Banks are generally listed on the stock market and have external shareholders and usually offer a wider range of products.

Which ethical bank is better value for my money?

For anyone looking to save more ethically, it’s good to know that while the rates tend to be lower in comparison to the best deals, they are often still much better than the biggest banks, according to Your Money.com.

For example, on easy access savings accounts, ethical banks such as Triodos offer 0.80% while Ecology Building Society offers 0.85% and Nationwide (which does not make a point of supporting renewable energy, but crucially does not invest in fossil fuels) offers 0.10% to 0.25%. In comparison mainstream rival Virgin Money offers 1.5% while fossil fuelling banks HSBC and Natwest offer a meagre 0.10% – 0.25% respectively.

These ethical banks are also covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which means that up to £85,000 of your savings is protected should they go bust.

What’s more compelling is that on current accounts, ethical bank Nationwide actually comes out as best for your money compared to the dirty banks such as Santandar, according to Moneyexpert.com. Ethical banks Cumberland and Yorkshire bank are not far behind.

However, depending if you’re a student, homeowner or business owner, you’ll have different needs to consider and the rates on ethical current accounts, savings and mortgages are pretty mixed, so do your research before switching. Naturally I’d advocate you choose an environmentally-friendly bank, but we all have individual financial needs (some more great than others) so where you choose to put your money is up to you.

Here’s a quick look at those banks and building societies that have been rated highly on the environment and generally on ethical issues.

Which ethical banks are good for the environment? A summary of the banks that do not fund fossil fuels

Triodos Bank

This bank is the only ethical bank that invests seriously in renewables, according to Ethical Consumer. It specialises in supporting ‘organic farming, renewable energy and ecological development to name  few along with some other good causes.

It’s a bank with a difference: on its current account you have to pay a £3 monthly fee which “goes towards the cost of running your current account”, and you’ll earn zero interest on balances. But considering that banks typically fund their ‘free’ accounts with hidden costs and high charges on overdrafts; and the fact most tempting high in-credit interest rates get slashed soon after you join and this £3 charge suddenly feels very reasonable. Additionally, an overdraft facility of £2,000 is available. 

The biggest benefit to this account is it’s honest and transparent. It publishes details of every organisation that it lends to on its website and claims to lend only to companies that have a positive impact on the planet. It is strikingly the most ethical bank on tax avoidance strategies, according to Ethical Consumer

The final feather in the cap for Tridos bank is the fact that Friends of the Earth have worked with it for nearly 13 years. The charity is currently appealing to its customers to take out an account with the bank. For every new customer the bank will donate £40 to the charity once your balance reaches £100. 

Ecology Building Society 

The Good Shopping Guide rates the Ecology Building Society second for its general ethical policies and practicals. 

In terms of the climate, the building society says it is dedicated to using customers’ savings to support mortgage lending on properties and projects that respect the environment. It promises a ‘fair financial return’ for this.

The Ecology Building Society does not offer current accounts. This climate conscious bank is a good option for anyone who needs a mortgage for a property that will benefit local communities or the environment, such as someone planning to build an eco house. 

Nationwide

If you’re after range and flexibility, then the world’s largest building society, Nationwide, probably offers the most options.

In 2016 it became the first high street financial services provider in the UK to achieve triple recertification to the Carbon Trust Standards for its “holistic approach” to managing carbon, water and waste throughout everything it does.

As a building society it doesn’t come weighed down with fossil fuel investments and claims it is ‘committed to managing our resources in ways that protect and support the long-term interests of our associates, our members and the communities in which we live and work’. Read more on their impact here. 

Cumberland Building Society

As in independent regional building society, Cumberland claims to take its social and ethical responsibilities seriously. Its environmental policy aims to manage and reduce its environmental impacts through ‘ongoing energy conservation, recycling and waste reduction’ and as a mutual organisation it does not need to maximise profit for external shareholders, so it can afford to stick to its ethics.

This bank offers a free current account and will switch all your data over for you, so you don’t have to. It also offers a business account, savings and mortgages. You can read stories of how it benefits people in the community here.

The Co-operative bank

The Co-operative bank made UK history when it publicly focussed on withholding investments from certain companies they deemed unethical or immoral. They have rejected more than £1 billion worth of loan applications since they adopted their ethical policy in 1992. The policy includes not investing in fossil fuels or arms manufacturing, or in companies that test on animals or have poor labour practices. Their refreshed ethical policy is supposedly stronger than ever.

Coop bank has suffered a difficult period – at one point their whole future was in the balance. In February 2017 the bank was put up for sale and was rescued by hedge funds, putting its ethical position under question. There’s more information on this here. However the bank has made some recovery, according to some commentators.

The bank also owns Smile, a subsidiary ethical bank.

Charity Bank 

Charity Bank comes out top of ethical banks according to Good Shopping Guide. It’s website prints full details of how much they have lent to different charitable sectors since 2002. So you can see the environment has received £10, 723, 681 compared to projects in health and social care, which received £57,184,200. Read its impact report here. It is completely owned by ‘charitable foundations, trusts and social purpose organisations’ and offers savings accounts and loans.

Monzo  

This new app-based bank is one of the players taking the UK under-30s by storm, mainly for the fact that it offers a prepaid debit card before switching customers over to a full-blown current account, but also because it claims to be ethical.

Credit where credit is due, it does focus on ‘solving customers’ problems, rather than selling financial products’ and it aimst to ‘get rid of punitive fees that hit when you’re most vulnerable’.  

However, I couldn’t find any company information or policies about the environmental impacts of its operations. As a digital only bank it also doesn’t mention the use of data centres, which require staggeringly large amounts of carbon emissions to keep running. The rise in app-based banking is not single-handedly fuelling this, but it may be an area that the community of customers might want to ask for further information on. I also felt it would be helpful to have more information on who it’s backed by – does it include individual investors and venture capitalists who hold investments across a wide range of other industries?

Handelsbanken 

Handelsbanken promote ‘responsible lending’ according to choose.co.uk. Each local branch is decentralised from the international umbrella bank, which means it gets to know its customer base and local community, ‘allowing it to make ethically sound lending decisions on a case-by-case basis’.

From an environmental point of view, the bank states that it promotes ‘sustainable investments’. It publishes a list of companies it does not work with; most of which are coal extraction companies and nuclear power companies. But the list does not include BP or Exxon, two of the world’s biggest polluters.

TSB

Since their relaunch in September 2013, TSB have made a great deal of their desire to be the UK’s ‘local bank’, in the sense that branches are independent of each other. They then take that one step further by using the money invested with them to fund loans and mortgages for other local people and businesses, according to chose.co.uk. 

The modern TSB don’t have an investment banking or corporate finance arm, focusing instead on UK-only retail banking.

Do you feel inspired to change bank after reading this? Let me know by sharing your story here, by commenting below or on my Instagram page.

How to help with the NSW and Queensland bushfires

If you’ve been watching the nightmarish images on television about the Australian wildfires and feeling numb there is something you can do.

You can donate, volunteer or petition to support the people, communities and wildlife affected by the disaster.

Take a look below for some ideas.

Petition 

This catastrophe needs awareness and real action. Signing this ongoing petition from Change.org, could help.

It calls on Australian PM Scott Morrison to officially declare the Australian fires a national emergency. So far the PM has sent Australia backwards on its climate change policy, according to the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, which ranked Australia last of 57 countries. In fact the coal-dependent economy, has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emission rates globally.

While bushfires are a natural part of the Australian cycle, the Bureau of Meteorology has said the rising heat has exacerbated drought which in turn has made dangerous fires more frequent and more intense. Petitions can enact real change, so don’t just sit on it; sign it.

Help people 

The Australian Red Cross is supporting communities affected by bushfires across NSW, Queensland, and South Australia. They are supporting evacuation centres for people who have lost their homes, providing emotional support and running a Register.Find.Reunite page. Donate here.

The NSW Rural Fire Service accepts direct financial contributions from the public. Local RFS brigades rely heavily on volunteers and contributions from their communities to sustain their efforts. You can use your credit card to donate to a local brigade, or to the RFS generally, via this link. Donations can also be accepted via bank transfer or cheque/money order. Details of the RFS bank account and addresses for cheques and money orders can be found here

The Salvation Army have set up a Disaster Appeal and are supporting people who have lost homes, require food, shelter and other essentials. 

Help wildlife

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital is helping to rescue koalas affected by the fires. The fires have caused huge damage to local koala populations. The hospital estimates as many as 350 koalas have died. It says about 75% of the fireground is in prime koala habitat. It is raising funds to purchase and distribute automatic drinking stations to reduce further death from dehydration.

Wireswildliferescue is the New South Wales Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. who rehabilitate and preservice Australian wildlife. With over 850,000 hectares of land being destroyed it is impossible to estimate the impact on wildlife in the area, ontop of habitat damage and drought.  On their homepage or if you search WIRES Australia NSW Fires the donation links for their emergency fund are ready for you.

Help farmers

There are plenty of charities that you can donate to help out the farmers. Here are just a few:

  • Drought Angels – donate to purchase food hampers, vouchers and feed. Click here to donate.
  • Buy a Bale – donate to purchase hay, water, groceries, and diesel. Click here to donate.
  • Aussie Helpers – donate to help provide farmers with equipment, food and emotional support. Click here to donate.

Organise and mobilise

Greta Thunberg can’t do it alone. You can get involved in lots of other ways, such as taking part in climate strikes and protests — no matter how seemingly small or inconsequential your contribution might feel, it does count. Just look here for where to find your local climate strike.

Easy DIY lip balm: how to make your own beauty products and have fun

Friends: making DIY lip balms fun since 2019

I’ve wanted to make my own beauty products for a while to reduce my carbon footprint, but never quite had the willpower to find time find for it.

Cue starting up your own blog on what you’re doing about the climate crisis (nothing like a bit of self-inflicted social media pressure to give you a kick up the proverbial); add a little inspiration from a beautiful friend who made some for me a few years ago; combine with an idea to make the whole thing sociable and BAM!

Here comes my own version of how to make DIY homemade lip balm fun.

Recipe

My ingredients and equipment before we got cooking

I adapted this recipe from The Inspired Little Pot. It felt like a lovely simple and flexible recipe that I could tweak to how I wanted.

Everything on this list is 100% organic and palm-oil free – the two key criteria I had to hang my hat on, given palm oil production is currently contributing to the killing of orangetans and contributing to climate change in the Phillipines.

Prep time: About 10 minutes

Makes: 130 g | 4.6 oz (approximately 10 small containers)

Quantity tips:

To calculate how many pots this recipe will make, divide total grams by the capacity of your lip balm containers.

We had 4 people making 6 pots each so we just multiplied everything by 2.5 to get the correct quantities.

My friend recommended that this lip balm is quite firm, so we reduced the beeswax by 10 g | 0.4 oz to make it softer and more supple.

Ingredients

  • 50 g | 1.8 oz shea butter
  • 50 g | 1.8 oz carrier oil. We used sweet almond oil but any carrier oil is good, such as fractionated coconut oil
  • 30 g | 1.1 oz beeswax
  • 20-30 drops of essential oils
  • Invite your friends and tell them all to bring mince pies

Choosing the right essential oil

Think about it – what flavour do you like on your lips the most? Strawberry? Mint? Lemon? We tried peppermint and citrus flavours along with lavender and they were bliss.

You will need to scatter quite a few drops in the mixture for it to smell right. Despite being luscious for your lips, the shea butter has quite an off-putting camel smell to it, so you need to sprinkle a fair bit to make it appealing.

You shouldn’t have to spend too much either. Most oils can fit a tight budget and you may have some already have in your collection that would be worth using up beforehand.

Method

Melting the beeswax was easy peasy. Don’t mind my messy oven, ahem.
  1. Put some water in a pan, bring to the boil and the simmer
  2. Add shea butter, carrier oil and beeswax to a glass bowl over the saucepan and heat until completely melted. (Double boiler method– place bowl on a pot of gently simmering water and stir frequently; Microwave method– heat in short bursts on low, stopping and stirring frequently). Remove from heat.
  3. Add desired essential oils and mix until combined.
  4. Transfer into aluminium pots or other containers of choice.
  5. Place into the fridge or freezer to set (this will reduce the chance of graininess developing over time).
  6. Meanwhile eat mincepies, gossip, chat and put the world to rights
  7. Take out pots from fridge, sample, marvel and never make again (jokes) or be inspired to become a DIY beauty queen

Decorating

Decorating the pots is (not) serious business. It needn’t fancy, just legible and simple

You can buy stamps to go on the lids of the pots, which is what I did for ease, or you could make your own labels out of paper and card.

We just used ordinary pencils and some calligraphy pens to decorate the lids with the name of the essential oils used and a drawing next to it.

We’re hardly Picasso but I’d like to think our designs were not too shabby.

Making your own DIY products is not that hard. You just need willpower and some time to research ethical, organic ingredients from local shops. Doing it with friends can make the challenge more fun.

Carbon footprint

I bought the oils from a health shop, but I will admit I bought the aluminium pots, beeswax and Shea butter online.

I’m consequently feeling very ashamed about it after having to throw away all the packaging used to transport it, but then there would be a footprint if I’d travelled around to find a shop that sold it instead.

The other issue is we should really be refraining from beeswax and honey products for ecological reasons, unless we can ensure it’s collected from ethical and organic sources. So next time I’ll be using candelilla plant wax instead with a slightly tweaked recipe.

The key benefit of DIY lip balms is that these pots are reusable, so you can collect them back afterwards to make more.

Nothing is straight-forward when you try to be more sustainable.

We ultimately need to start consuming much less to make a difference. But the process of wanting to make your own everyday products forces you to learn what ingredients they are made from and how they are produced.

That process is just as important and valuable so we can make better choices in future.

Have you got a DIY product that you like to make? Share it in the comments below.

Environmental justice: why funding for fracking hurts indigenous communities and what we can do about it

I literally cannot wrap my head around this: the UK is planning to invest £1bn finance meant for green energy to support major oil companies such as BP and Shell to frack for shale in Argentina.

This money won’t just damage the environment and line the pockets of companies who are some of the worst polluters in the world, but it will only serve to further damage the ancestral homeland of Argentina’s indigenous Mapuche people.

An oil fire burned for more than three weeks next to a freshwater lake in Vaca Muerta earlier this year and the ongoing use of the site for fracking is putting the local community in danger, according to reports.

This couldn’t be a clearer example of environmental injustice and a second wave of consumption-led colonialism: the poor global south suffer while the white west prosper.

I can’t read something like this and not feel angry.

People might read this and think ‘Well she’s prospering from a capitalist society and she’s white – if she has a problem with it she shouldn’t drive a car or use electricity anymore’.

Yes, you could argue that but its a moot point and unreasonable. There are individual actions we can take.

I drive a hybrid electric car for what it’s worth and walk as much as I can.

But these alone won’t rein in a beast as big as the fossil fuel industry.

We need real political leadership and the infrastructure to support a more carbon neutral economy that’s less reliant on fossil fuels.

We need to make sure all of this is done along equal terms in the name of greater environmental justice, so it doesn’t just benefit the rich.

So how can we reach that goal?

Here’s some ideas:

  1. Greater inclusion. We need to include indigenous groups and those most affected by climate change, such as the Mapuche people, to a seat at the table 
  2. Stop investment in fossil fuels. Surely the most obvious solution but apparently comes with risks of its own. Green energy must be regulated to ensure it is really green.
  3. Roll out large scale carbon capture and storage. Oil companies apparently have the expertise to trap and bury the C02 from fossil fuel burning but it’s not deployed at scale, because the commercial incentive simply does not exist. Yet ironically, without this action the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says tackling the climate crisis will be a hell of a lot more expensive.
  4. Put a price on carbon. Controversial, although it would help provide a much-needed commercial incentive. It would need proper regulation to ensure there are no economic losers.
  5. End fossil fuel subsidies. I didn’t know this but the coal, gas and oil industries benefit from $5tn dollars a year according to the International Monetary Fund.  According to the Guardian, even direct consumption subsidies for fossil fuels are double those for renewables. This means your taxes are effectively helping destroy the world. That’s powerful stuff. Not in my name.
  6. Put climate on the ballot paper, so that politicians feel this is a priority for their electorate. How will they know you don’t want your taxes going to fossil fuel companies if you don’t vote.

Some of these ideas take huge guts on the behalf of governments to act, but they can be motivated by the strength of public opinion.

It’s easy to feel powerless, but for the sake of the planet and the sake of environmental justice we need to keep sharing those petitions, protesting and raising our voice.

We owe it to people such as the Mapuche.

What are the ways you think we can rein in the fossil fuel industry and achieve environmental justice? Let me know in the comments below.