Tag Archives: divestment

The Freshwater Trust moves money to make bigger difference

The Freshwater Trust moves money to make bigger difference

By Haley Walker | LinkedIn 

This post originally appeared on The Freshwater Trust’s website. Haley Walker is the Freshwater Trust’s Communications Director, based in Portland, OR.

The Freshwater Trust (TFT) began the New Year by partnering with Beneficial State Bank, one of only a few financial institutions in the world certified as a B Corporation.

Certified B Corporations are for profit companies that meet strict social and environmental standards.  There are more than 2,000 in 50 countries.

“These companies are retooling the way ‘success’ has long been defined,” said Joe Whitworth, president of TFT “It’s not just about financial returns but also what’s being given back to the society and to our natural resources.”

“Our core mission is to fix rivers, but our positive impact doesn’t have to be reserved for just a river system. Fortunately, it can – and should – extend further than that.”

Philanthropist and environmentalist Tom Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor founded Beneficial State Bank in California in 2007. Just in 2016, the bank loaned $86 million to nonprofits, $57 million to affordable housing projects, $36 million for renewable energy, and $122 million to low and moderate income communities.

“The mission of Beneficial State Bank is to build prosperity in our communities through beneficial banking services delivered in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner. We believe banks can nourish communities instead of extracting from them. Together we can build a new banking system, and a new economy, that helps restore the environment and invests in economic security for all,” said Randell Leach, president and chief operating officer of Beneficial State.

In 2017, TFT evaluated its systems and practices to identify areas of improvement–in its internal operations and externally in terms of restoration work on the ground.

“We audited ourselves to be candid about where we could make a bigger difference,” said Kimberlee Myers, TFT’s operations director. “Moving our money was one pretty immediate way we could do better.”

TFT also recently pursued and won a $20,000 grant from Meyer Memorial Trust to provide its staff and board with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training. The two-day training session will focus on capacity building, creating a shared understanding of the importance of DEI work and exploring issues, challenges and opportunities for the organization and its partners.

Beneficial State reports seeing a steady increase in the number of people, nonprofits, and businesses opening new accounts at the bank since images of water protectors at Standing Rock Sioux first appeared on television screens across the country. Recognizing that many people wanted to move their money out of the big banks funding the pipeline – but were unsure of where they should move their money to – Beneficial State released a Move Your Money toolkit in 2016 to help individuals, businesses, and institutions take action with their deposits. Joining the Beneficial State banking family means joining a values-based banking movement that continues to gain traction as people wake up to their agency in the banking system and demand more from the banks that serve them.

Reflecting on this new partnership, Matt Anderson, Beneficial State’s SVP and director of nonprofit banking says, “We are very focused on helping nonprofits increasing their impact, and our relationship with The Freshwater Trust is prime example of how aligning our vision for beneficial banking with their tremendously effective model for conservation, research, and advocacy, moves us all closer to the reality of an economy that nurtures and protects our natural environment. Our entire team is excited to support such an impactful organization.”

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

How do I know if my bank is good?

How do I know if my bank is good?

By Jhana Valentine | LinkedIn

Jhana is Beneficial State Foundation’s Social and Environmental Impact Associate based in Oakland, CA.

“How do I know if my bank is good?”

When I was first asked this question, I was surprised and a little embarrassed that I didn’t have an answer. At the time, I’d started an internship at Beneficial State Foundation and experienced how easy it was to move my money into a community bank. I was energized to see the Defund DAPL movement gaining momentum. I was trying to convince my best friend that not all banks were bad and that many banks and credit unions actually do a lot of good in their communities so she should move her money to one of them. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but I was encouraging her to join the Banking on Values movement.

The Banking on Values movement, led by the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, aims to positively change the banking sector by influencing the ways in which banks and other financial institutions serve human needs, our environment, and the real economy. Consumers can engage in the Banking on Values Movement by encouraging their bank to adopt values-based banking principles or by moving their money to bank that already does.

My best friend was pressing me, as she often does, to get to the heart of the matter: “Are there principles or practices that distinguish a good bank? How do I know if my bank is upholding these principles? How do I know that my bank isn’t funding projects I don’t support, like the Dakota Access Pipeline?”

The Banking on Values movement reminds us that our deposit dollars don’t disappear into a black box

Underlying the over-simplified binary of “good” and “bad” banks are our values.  I value fairness and equity.  So when I hear about a bank charging people of color higher interest rates than white people, that goes against my values and I don’t want my money to support those practices. When I learn that my bank actively supports projects that preserve and develop affordable housing, I feel proud to bank with an institution that aligns with my values.

The Banking on Values movement reminds us that our deposit dollars don’t disappear into a black box. That money is recirculated in the economy, either by investing in the people and products we see in the real economy, or participating in the financial economy of stocks, securities, and speculation. Values-based banks demonstrate that a bank can generate positive social and environmental impact and remain financially sustainable by making loans directly into the real economy.

In my role I track and measure the impact metrics of Beneficial State Bank, a values-based bank.  We look at numerous social and environmental indicators of our bank’s loans, from the number of kilowatt hours produced by clean energy projects to the number of small and local businesses that have distributed ownership models, such as cooperatives. This work has given me an in-depth understanding of how good banking can be translated into concrete indicators, policies, and practices that can help any one of us determine if our bank is aligned with our values.

I often think back to my friend’s questions because they remind me that the impact metrics I’m collecting can help a consumer make an informed decision about where they bank. My hope is that one day all banks measure and publish not only their financial indicators of success, but also their social and environmental impact metrics. Drawing upon the work of the Global Alliance of Banking on Values members, who are working together to develop best practices for impact measurement, I’m now much more equipped to answer my friend’s questions with concrete examples.

Here are some principles and practices that distinguish a “good” bank:

To determine if your bank is upholding these principles and practices, you might have to do some digging:

  1. Read through your bank’s website. Do they share a mission and vision that resonates with you? Do they provide concrete examples of how they are living up to this mission? Do they publish information about what they’re not supporting, such as private prisons and pipelines?
  2. Talk to your banker. How is the bank involved in the community? Do they have special products or pricing that serve communities that have historically been left out of the banking system?
  3. Check their certifications and associations. If your bank is a certified Community Development Financial Institution, Community Development Credit Union, or certified B Corporation, or a participant in the Global Alliance of Banking on Values or Community Development Bankers Association, there’s a good chance they’re a values-based bank.

Thanks to dedicated organizations, you can check if your bank is funding certain projects that have negative social and environmental impacts:

  1. Food and Water Watch will tell you if your bank has funded the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  2. Rainforest Action Network will tell you if your bank is funding activities that directly contribute to climate change.

For me, values are at the heart of the matter, whether I’m picking out food at the grocery store, deciding how to spend my free time, or putting my money into a bank or investment vehicle. I know that we all have a unique blend of values, but I think there are as many similarities among people as there are differences. I think many of you would agree that you don’t want your money working against you. And so, if you only saw your bank’s purely financial statements, that information alone wouldn’t convince you that your bank is good. I think you’d want more comprehensive information. The Banking on Values movement has inspired me to consider us all as stakeholders of the banking industry. As a depositor stakeholder, I want my bank, which holds my money, to support the communities and ecosystems that sustain, nourish and make my life beautiful. What do you want from your bank?

For more tips on how to find a values-aligned bank near you, check out our Move Your Money toolkit.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.