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  • Jenica Barrett

How to Divest Your Money from Fossil Fuels

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

Messaging from zero waste communities is to vote with your dollar by purchasing products that you believe in. But what about the rest of your money that's sitting in the bank? Or, better said, your money that is funding the fossil fuel industry! It's time we talk about putting our money where our mouth is (and in a different bank).

Banks are Funding Fossil Fuel Projects

Banks use the money you deposit to fund projects and loans outside of itself to generate revenue. Depending on the bank you use, a huge portion of that many may be going to companies in the fossil fuel industry. According to the Banking on Climate Change Report published in 2019, over $1.9 trillion was used to finance the fossil fuel industry between 2016-19 from just 33 banks.

These banks financed tar sand projects, coal plant production, fracking, arctic drilling, and pipeline production. The worst bank in the entire world is JP Morgan Chase, ranking higher in fossil fuel funding by 29% compared to the second worst bank, Wells Fargo. Since the Paris Climate Accord, the quantity of money used to fund fossil fuel projects has only increased with very few banks imposing restrictions on fossil fuel financing.

"...fossil fuel financing is dominated by the big U.S. banks, with JPMorgan Chase the world’s top funder of fossil fuels by a wide margin." - Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2019

Fossil Free Funds Movement

Many universities, towns, and even countries have pledged to divest their investments from the fossil fuel industry. Ireland passed a law in 2018 that required all public funds to be divested from the fossil fuel industry within the next five years. New York City also made a similar commitment to divest its public funds away from the oil and gas companies. Every time someone divests money from a bank funding the fossil fuel industry, it sends a message that we're not willing to sit by idly while our money helps kill the planet.

The movement to divest money from these types of banks has been around a long time and received national traction when protesters realized which banks were funding the Dakota Access Pipeline Project. They made widespread calls asking individuals to move their money away from those banks.

Many banks have come out supporting the fossil fuel free movement. In 2017 six different banks pulled support for the Dakota Access Pipeline once a public campaign was launched to pressure investors. In December of 2019, Goldman Sachs announced the strongest restrictions on fossil fuel financing by any bank in the U.S. (although still markedly less restrictions than other global banks). The European Invest Bank has committed to ending all funding of fossil fuel projects from the end of 2021! The banks making these steps to move away from fossil fuels are the banks that will fund the future of our planet.

Check Your Bank

To check to see if your bank is one of the Top 33 Banks funding the fossil fuel industry, you can see the full list here. If your bank isn't on the list, contact them directly to insure they have divested from the fossil fuel industry as a whole and have a public policy guaranteeing it. I used to bank with People's Bank of WA and sent them this simple message when I couldn't find any information online:

Hello, I am a customer with People's Bank of WA and have been for many years. I have recently become aware of the campaign to push banks to divest from fossil fuels and commit to pulling out all financial support for these oil institutions. I have searched your website but cannot find any information about your stance. Does People's Bank support the fossil free funds movement? Have you committed to divesting from the industry? I would really appreciate a response back! Thank you!

When People's Bank of WA responded back letting me know that they do not share any information about investments as a matter of policy, I knew they hadn't formally promised to divest from fossil fuels. I realized I was banking with an institution that didn't support my environmental goals and may even have been actively subverting them.

It's time to put your money where your values are.

Move Your Money Somewhere Else

Now it's time for you to divest your personal savings from these fossil fuel banks. Which bank you choose to move your money to will depend on your financial needs, location, and priorities.

You will want to make sure, at a bare minimum, that the new bank you select has made a commitment to divest all money from the fossil fuel industry. This is also a great opportunity to switch to a local bank, one that supports your community, and represents your values in many areas such as fair wages and diverse representation. To find fossil free banks, look for banks that are part of the following associations and groups:

Credit Unions

Although credit unions aren't required to be fossil fuel free, lots of them are! So if you already have a local credit union in mind, reach out to them to ask about their policies. You can also use a search tool online to find your nearest credit union and then contact them.

Join the #BankBlack Movement

You should also consider moving your money to a bank that is black-owned. Historically (and currently) people of color are shut out from the financial institutions in our country and prayed upon with high-interest loans. There are only a few banks in the U.S. that are run by black individuals which is why we need to support them even more! OneUnited Bank is the largest black-owned bank in the U.S. and you can discover other options on the Blackout Coalition website!

I Chose Beneficial State Bank

After doing research on credit unions, local banks, and visiting the above websites, I decided to move my money to the Beneficial State Bank. They are part of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values and a B-Corp certified company.

Additionally, they put out an impact report each year that is surprisingly transparent about all of the inner workings, even when ratings may go down. They are certified carbon neutral company that hires an independent third-party company to calculate their footprint each year. It has locations in Washington, Oregon, and California that are all green certified buildings and their location in Oakland is even solar powered! They also provide statistics on the percentage of people of color and women working in their company and on their board.

Beneficial State Bank doesn't have to be the one you choose though. As I said above, everyone's choice will vary a little depending on their financial needs. The important part is to divest your money from the fossil fuel industry - just do it! If you're interested in using an online-only bank, Aspiration was the bank that was second on my list of options.

Call Out the Banks Publicly

Once you have decided where to move your money to, open up an account and transition your deposits and payments over. Then the most important part is publicly calling out your bank at the end! Let your old banking institution know that the reason you moved your money is because of their support of the fossil fuel industry. Share the message on social media with information about the divestment movement and encourage others to do the same!

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