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Ethical Banking: Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

This month's post is a brief departure from the usual photo-sharing format, to look at the bigger picture, and something we can all do to make a genuine difference. I often bleat about environmentalism, which is a core driver for me, both as a nature photographer and also as someone who wants to be part of a society that is forward-thinking, responsible, and sustainable. It's easy to feel powerless in the face of such a monumental problem, combined with governmental corruption and inaction. But here's something easy, that we can all do; Keep your money in a bank that uses it for good.

What's an "Ethical Bank"?

Here's how I interpret it...

A large ice berg sits in the middle of the bay, with the peaks of Disko Island behind.

If I have a few hundred or a few thousand pounds in an account, what is the bank using that money for?

Is it funding new renewable energy research?

Cancer treatments?

Sustainable housing projects?

Or is it being invested in Shell Oil, polluting industries, companies with tax avoidance strategies and human rights abuses? I don't want my money invested in or lent to businesses which are putting profit over ethics. It's not right. And it's incredible how many people go to the trouble of making green shopping choices, driving less, thinking environmentally, yet their money is funding the continued destruction of everything they believe in.

Once you realise this, the choice is obvious. Keep your money somewhere where it will be used for positive projects, which make the world a better place. While you're not spending it, it might as well do some good.

Give Me Some Examples

There are a few new banks springing up which brand themselves as 'ethical'.

These are all for the UK, but I'm sure there are a wealth of other choices for overseas readers...

  • Triodos Bank - Very big on transparency, and tops most charts for ethical investments and lending.

  • Charity Bank - They use money to lend to charities and social enterprises.

  • Co-Operative Bank - They consider themselves the first ethical bank in the UK, and although they have since been taken over by a large network of hedge-funds, which damaged their reputation and eco-credentials, they still seem a credible option.

  • Nationwide - Technically a building society, but they do everything from current accounts to loans, savings and mortgages.

  • Starling Bank - App-based banking, modern approach, with good features for overseas use.

  • Monzo - Also app-based, with a similar feature-set to Starling.

To check your bank, and read more about environmentally friendly banks, check out Bank.Green.

You don't have to compromise on quality or service either. Many of the ethical banks are start-ups that don't have the historical weight of data or dated methodologies which slow or prevent them from adapting to change. They have great banking apps, security baked in, and they're nimble enough to adopt new features relatively easily. But they're also all fully legitimate banks, complying with all the banking regulations and authorities you would expect of any high street bank.

Switching is really easy. At least in the UK, we have the Current Account Switch Service, which migrates all your bills, direct debits, and salary payments to your new account for free.

Be The Change You Want To See In The World

Close-up of a very large gum tree, which has lived for many many years, and still stands strong today.

Remember that environmentalism isn't all about climate change, rainbows, and fluffy creatures. It's about the sustainability of life on this planet. It's about equality, clean air, clean water, productive soils, cheap renewable energy. It's about leaving things in a better condition than how you found them.

Moving your money is the most effective action you can take to influence the structures that run our modern economy.

The great thing about it is that the more people switch, the more the old-school banks will have to adapt their practices to keep up with the market, and retain customers. So this isn't only about putting your money to good use. It's also about voting with your money, and divesting from traditional banks - forcing them to clean up their act, and start behaving as their customer base would like.

Once I'd switched my current account over, I also opened a business account too, so that my photography turnover is also working for good. In time I'd like to move my pension to an ethical investment model too, but that is currently proving considerably more complex. But I think in terms of bang for your buck, it doesn't get more easy and effective than switching your bank account to an ethical bank.

The overlapping layers of pine forest




Red Deer Roaring, photographed in black and white


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