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Big Banks are Going Green, Environmentally Speaking

2016-09-21_15-14-46The Bank of America says it has plans to be carbon neutral. To do that, it says that it will work to reduce location-based greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, energy use by 40 percent, and water use by 45 percent in its operations across the globe by 2020.

In addition, Bank of America says that it has committed to purchasing 100 percent renewable electricity, and has joined RE100, a global initiative led by The Climate Group. Separately, it has a $125 billion environmental business initiative, it says.

“Addressing global issues like climate change and the transition to a sustainable and low-carbon future takes collaboration, innovation and investment,” said Anne Finucane, vice chairman, Bank of America. “The expansion of our operational goals to 2020, achieving carbon neutrality, and the purchase of 100 percent renewable electricity build on our existing environmental commitment and responsible growth strategy. This demonstrates the measurable actions we are taking to reduce our environmental impacts.”

Already, the bank has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent; that occurred over fives years between 2010 and 2015. It did so, primarily, through energy efficiency measures and conservation efforts — something that will continue as it pursue carbon neutrality. The bank is implementing a wide variety of energy efficiency programs, such as lighting upgrades planned for 900 financial centers in 2016, it says.

It will also procure all of energy from renewables and utilize carbon offsets. Just as important, the bank will require that its supply chain take similar actions.

“It is critical the public and private sector continue to do their part to help find solutions to this global issue,” said Amy Davidsen, executive director, U.S., The Climate Group. “Bank of America continues to demonstrate its commitment to the environment by joining RE100 with a goal to reach 100 percent renewable electricity by 2020. One company can make a significant and positive impact on the environment, but collective action is key, and we believe Bank of America will inspire more to follow suit.”

While banks are going green, internally speaking, they are also limiting their exposure to those businesses that burn coal. Critics maintain, however, that Bank of America — the nation’s second biggest by assets — is bankrolling coal projects. A story in the Huffington Post said  that between 2013 and 2015, Bank of America’s annual report noted it had invested $3.92 billion in coal mining companies. The bank put $10.85 billion into the 20 largest coal-fired power producers in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the story says.

It’s no surprise then that the green movement’s strategy has moved into its next phase — to get the biggest banks to quit lending money to coal companies as well as to get the major pension funds to sell off their shares of coal companies. For example, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo have become the two most recent financial institutions to alter their lending practices. They join Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and GoldmanSachs Group Inc., which aim to reduce their lending to coal enterprises.

“Morgan Stanley recognizes that climate change poses significant risks to the global economy and that reducing carbon emissions is critical to our success in addressing the challenges presented by a changing climate,” says the bank, in a statement. “As a financial institution, our greatest impact lies in how we can leverage the capital market to scale low-carbon sources of energy and other sustainable strategies.”

Since 2011, the bank says that it has invested more than $25 billion in renewable and clean technology enterprises, while simultaneously reducing its exposure to coal-related ventures.

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