When I first began my sustainable lifestyle journey, I did what most people do when it begins to dawn on them that their very existence threatens the health of the planet: I shopped less and cut my waste, started composting my food scraps and began carrying around my reusable water bottle.
Year after year, I continued to test my green limitations and raise the sustainable bar, so to speak. I’d cut out red meat from my diet, and then white meat. I would buy organic foods at the supermarket and then graduate to getting them directly from local growers at the farmers’ market. I’d switch over to wearing natural and organic makeup only to give up wearing makeup almost entirely (consuming less is much more sustainable).
At the bottom of my to-do list was ensuring that my money was invested in ways that aligned with my values.
There I was, on my way to becoming vegan and installing solar panels on the roof of the house to reduce my environmental impact, and all the while my personal finances were undermining my hard work and likely funding the very industries I despise most: fossil fuels, tobacco, gambling and live exports.
When I finally began to tackle the money issue, I discovered, to my horror, that my bank was still heavily invested in coal mining, coal power, thermal coal, extreme oil and gas extraction and liquefied natural gas exports. It was lending four times more to fossil fuel projects then to renewables!
Many years later, with the benefit of hindsight (and after learning via the Market Forces website that four of Australia’s largest financial institutions have loaned more than $70 billion to fossil fuel projects in the past decade) I now encourage others to make clean money a top priority.
In her book, Every Woman’s Guide to Saving the Planet, Natalie Isaacs, founder and CEO of the climate action organisation 1 Million Women, lists four key money areas: saving, spending, investing and giving. Our financial decisions in these four areas, she says, help shape the kind of world we live in today and will inhabit in the future.
Natalie is absolutely right.
Now I make my money work for me, for people and for the planet.
The best money lesson my immigrant parents taught me was to save it. You never know when you’ll need it, they’d say.
And save I did, feeling a sense of achievement whenever I watched by bank balance grow.
What I didn’t learn growing up was what happened to my money after I’d deposited my savings into that bank account. As it turns out, the money doesn’t just sit there; the bank loans it out and invests the money to make a profit, from which it pays interest.
Here’s where the problem lies: you don’t always get a say as to where your money goes; it could be invested in an offshore oil drilling project or loaned to a company seeking to build a coalmine.
Discovering what my bank was doing was an “aha moment” for me.”
I realised my money and choice of financial institution were not on the same ethical page; I was working to make the world better, and my bank was effectively sabotaging my efforts by loaning to, and investing in, companies and industries directly contributing to climate change and harming the health and wellbeing of communities. I couldn’t allow my finances to make a mockery of my good intentions.
Given my strong principles, changing to a bank with a policy of refusing loans and investment in coal, oil and gas and other socially negative sectors was the right thing to do. I switched to Bank Australia because it keeps its money clean and the bank sits on the same side of the ethical fence as I do. It stays away from lending to industries that do harm, such as dirty fossil fuels, tobacco and weapons manufacturing. Instead, this carbon neutral bank funds positive initiatives, such as renewable energy projects and social enterprises.
When it comes to financial matters, the prospect of changing banks can seem daunting, but switching over my personal banking was simple. It took less than five minutes for me to switch to an ethical bank.
American author and sustainability advocate Anna Lappé says: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” As with my election vote, I take my spending “vote” very seriously. Before making a purchase, I conduct online research to learn about the sustainability attributes and ethical practices of the brand and its product to ensure they align with my principles. Who wants to support businesses that exploit workers, use child or forced labour or ruin the environment?
Whether it’s shopping for ethical clothing or ordering a plant-based meal at a restaurant, actively exercising this “vote” helps to build a fair, equitable and sustainable world.
Plus, with the plethora of resources available to help people make informed decisions – from fashion ratings apps and websites such as Good On You and Ethical Fashion Guide to platforms such as Choice – spending consciously has never been easier.
I actually switched my investments and super fund long before I switched my personal banking because I had more money in those accounts.
With so much of the globe’s finances and retirement money funding projects that enable companies to pollute our oceans, destroy ecosystems, exploit communities and accelerate climate change, making ethical investment decisions was non-negotiable.
I researched, evaluated corporate values and principles, assessed investment returns and made the switch. The research is the time-consuming part; the process, however, is not. It took me a few minutes to switch to an ethical super fund, and this one-off decision made in 2016 has been contributing to building a more sustainable world ever since.
Today, there are more ethical investment options available than there were a decade ago. Imagine if every investor did what I did, and divested from fossil fuels and invested in sustainable industries such as renewable energy. Billions of dollars would be made available to develop and implement climate solutions and we would stand a much greater chance of meeting the requirements of the Paris Agreement and keeping global warming to under 1.5C.
Donating to charity is another way I create meaningful impact with my finances, since I generally don’t have the time to volunteer.
According to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), there are roughly 57,000 registered charities in Australia, with a collective revenue of $146.1bn, addressing a broad range of issues, from fighting extreme poverty and human rights advocacy to tackling the climate crisis and wildlife conservation. I donate to charities I believe in because it helps them continue their important work – and giving makes me feel good.
There are multiple ways to champion positive change but nothing beats the sense of pride and satisfaction I feel knowing that my money matches my values, and is being used to make a difference.
Use your money investment power for good: learn more about Bank Australia and the clean money movement.
This article was originally published on Guardian Australia.
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