With people all over the globe becoming increasingly concerned about climate change and environmental impact, green finance initiatives have sprung up to help ease consumers minds when dealing with financial organisations. However, as with every industry, sometimes it can be hard to tell if a company is genuinely trying to be sustainable, or just “green-washing.”
Elliot Goykhman is the founder of ZELF, the Gen Z- focused neobank that works through messaging apps. Here he shares his thoughts on sustainability in finance, and how to spot the difference between real solutions and marketing ploys.
The green fad has been around for over two decades now as companies are trying to position themselves as environmentally friendly through extensive rebranding, marketing campaigns, and product packaging. However, the green element of the business itself may be irrelevant if the entire chain of production and supply leading to its final service or product delivery is rotten brown.
The banks and financial institutions have also jumped on the bandwagon in hopes of attracting a lucrative environmentally conscious audience. But most of the major corporations donning the green tag are ignoring the most important component of environmental friendliness – sustainability.
In the financial industry, sustainability is not just about maintaining profitability and long-term survival of the enterprise, but also about accountability for the overall effect on our surroundings. In the global capitalist society, the banks’ channel streams of money that can result in the employment or unemployment of millions of people, financing of environmentally unfriendly industries, deforestation projects, not to mention the CO2 and waste footprint of their own. As such, proclaiming any incumbent bank as green by turning a blind eye on its environmental footprint would be cynical at best. Outrageous examples of greenwashing among banks include Westpac, which was the winner of the Global 100 “Most Sustainable Business in the World” award while having invested over $12.2 billion in fossil fuel companies since 2008. ANZ was even worse as the winner of the same Global 100 Award with $24.7 billion invested in fossil fuels.
The modern concept of sustainability in finance calls for the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria, and sets such ESG-oriented benefits at the core of the business. As a growing number of clients are becoming environmentally and socially aware, they want their investments to reflect their beliefs and they expect the financial institution of their choice to follow suit. Purveying appropriate investment strategies for clients should be accompanied by the banking and financial companies themselves doing away with the modus operandi that harms society and the environment in the process.
To make a real impact on climate change, the banks should refrain from financing fossil fuel companies, support development of sustainable energy solutions, be conscious about their own energy consumption, eliminate paper waste, get rid of physical card production, and streamline logistics by going all digital and much more. An excellent example to follow is that of the neobanks, or online banks that exist solely online and have no brick-and-mortar branches, thus virtually nullifying their carbon footprint. In the coming years, some neobanks can become all-green by relying solely on renewable energy sources to power their servers.
Many incumbent banks and neobanks flirted with green pledges for a while. Regardless of which material you make the physical card out of, be it cardboard, wood, recycled plastic or even metal, you still have the manufacturing, printing and logistics of that card to the customer that increases your carbon and waste footprint.
ZELF has made sustainability the core of its business model, eliminating physical cards and delivery of welcome packages, striving to improve its operations while minimizing environmental impact. The Gen Z- focused neobank also eliminated the mobile banking apps by transitioning into social messenger apps for money management, reducing the “digital waste” and clutter on their clients’ phones.
A bank’s credit cards made of wood or recycled plastic might be lipstick on a pig, replacing true ESG agenda, hiding its core activities. Truly sustainable banking has no need for grand slogans, as its operations are efficient, transparent, innovative and bereft of involvement in the financing industries destroying nature.
Fintechs are key in pushing the industry to paperless, contactless and cashless operations by providing technological innovations for going digital. Intense competition will force the incumbent players to either create proprietary solutions or seek opportunities on fintech platforms. Banks that do not change their funding strategies toward greener, environmentally safe industries will be neglected by the information society.