Going Green: Bank Australia
A bank that's investing in the future of the planet, as well as people.
A lot of the media coverage around climate change focuses on big business, governments and, of course, banks. But one of the biggest impacts that we can have as individuals is to choose where we put our money (and how we spend it). With even the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) recognising the threat of climate change, lots of banks are now taking action.
What sets the greenest banks apart from the rest is how committed they are to sustainability. As well as choosing to invest in green industries and not lending to businesses that contribute to global warming, green banks think about their own operations and how they could reduce their carbon footprint.
In the case of Bank Australia, it offers green banking products, runs on 100% renewable energy, supports green businesses and organisations and provides education for its members. In 2020, it was named the Green Bank of the Year in the Finder Awards and it became a certified B Corp – a collective of businesses that are dedicated to making a positive impact.
We caught up with Bank Australia's head of strategy and communication, Fiona Nixon, to find out more about its approach.
What does your company do and how is it green?
Bank Australia is a bank that has a very clear purpose, which is being here to inspire and empower people to use their money to create a more healthy planet and thriving communities.
On the planet side, we have a long history of trying to clean up our own operations. So we run on 100% renewable electricity as of 2019, and we've been carbon neutral since 2011.
We've also tried to make sure that we can help our customers live more sustainable lives. So we have a couple of products in particular that we've [designed to] incentivise people: a clean energy car loan and a clean energy home loan, which are two products that help our customers make those [greener] choices as well.
We also tell the stories of a lot of the environmental organisations that bank with us. Recently, we've been supporting a campaign by an organisation called HalfCut, which has been trying to raise funds to purchase some pristine rainforest in the Daintree.
It's been a crowdfunding campaign that our customers have all contributed to. That's been a great opportunity to talk about the fact that half of the world's rainforests are being lost, and to help people understand that issue.
We try and make sure that all of our sponsorships and partnerships have an element of education through storytelling, but also, a number of them offer our customers a way of contributing.”
What inspires you and your business to be green?
Well actually, it's our customers who inspire us to continue to push ourselves and to continue to lead in this area. We are a customer-owned bank, so we talk to our customers every couple of years about what's really important to them and… what they think the bank should be doing to address those issues.
Climate has been consistently at the top or near the top of their list for many years now. So our customers expect us to educate them and other people about the issue and what's happening. And they definitely have said to us that they expect us to invest money into renewable [resources] and invest money into products and things that are green and sustainable.
They have also said that they expected us not to invest in the fossil fuel industry. So we've had that commitment not to invest in fossil fuels for a long time now. And, you know, when we go back and test that with customers, they continue to tell us that's really, really important to them.
A couple of years ago, we added some other filters to our lending. [This is] called the responsible banking policy, but it's really about applying positive and negative filters to the industries that we'll lend to and therefore support.
So we continue to push ourselves, because that's what our customers want us to do.
Overwhelmingly, we get lots and lots of customers talking to us on social media about these issues. We have letters and calls coming in about the things that we're doing.
In the last couple of years, the awareness about where banks are investing has grown and so we've also had a lot of new customers coming to us saying that they're joining us because they've seen, and they're starting to think about, where their money is going and what their money does.”
We have taken a fairly strong position on some of these things, and when you do that, not everyone agrees with you. But we always have our own customers come to our defence, especially on social media platforms, and we're always just so blown away that someone would come and defend their bank.
Why is being green personally important to you?
I've lived a life that has been full of opportunities and privileges. And I feel like we all have a responsibility to leave the world in the best possible way that we can once we go.
We are living on the world now, but it's really our children and our children's children who are going to have to deal with the consequences of the actions that we take today.”
I take that responsibility really seriously. I guess also, I've got three children, and I do think about the world that they're going to inherit a lot.
Could you describe one small step people could take towards being greener?
Well, you probably wouldn't be surprised for me to say this but the one thing that people can do that is quite simple is to change who they've got their bank accounts with.
People forget that the money that just sits in a savings account isn't just sitting there. The bank is investing it somewhere else and using it. So if you care about being green, then you can change your account to a bank that is investing in a new, low-carbon future.
And from what people are telling us, they feel so good about it once it's done.
What is one resource that you think people should read/watch/consume to understand more about sustainability and going green?
The most inspiring thing that I have seen in the last couple of years has been a documentary called 2040.
It paints such a positive future, and it identifies technologies that exist today that could – if they were [scaled up] – [give us] a very different, very much greener, sustainable world in [the year] 2040.
I think we all need some hype and some positive paths forward at the moment. So that would be my go-to [resource], and the website is really amazing. You can put in what you're interested in, what you're prepared to do, and it will give you a plan to improve your environmental footprint.
The community of B Corps is another amazing resource for people who want to learn a bit more about the things that businesses are doing and how businesses are now being set up with the specific aim of doing something positive for the planet.
We've just recently become a [certified] B Corp… and it's amazing to me to see the diversity of organisations who are becoming accredited.
Going Green is an interview series that sheds light on companies, organisations and initiatives that have a focus on sustainability and ethics. We ask a representative from each company the same five questions so you can get a snapshot of the work they are doing to help protect the planet.
Want more info and tips for making greener choices? Check out the Finder Green homepage.
Image credits: Getty Images, Supplied (Bank Australia)