One of the first principles of sustainable business is responsible purchasing – ask any administrator working at an organization committed to sustainability, and they will probably speak of making ecologically-conscious sourcing decisions, from the simplest criteria (e.g. recycled-content paper) to the most complex (e.g. source-certified materials for equipment manufacture). But what about banking? As a business, our banking choices also have profound external effects. A business looking to embody sustainability in all operations should be aware of, and attempt to mitigate, the potential negative externalities of partnerships with other institutions.
The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which the UN has referred to since 1972 (amended in 1992), is a concise but articulate treatise on the the interconnectivity of human rights and environmental health, and we consider it a must-read for all sustainability professionals. While scientists have long acknowledged the effect of environmental degradation on human rights (this 2011 UN study is one of many examples), more recent studies have brought forward evidence of a parallel, reverse relationship; the tendency for human rights violations to effect environmental destruction. A compelling recent book, Blood and Earth by Kevin Bales, provides vivid and compelling support for the thesis that modern-day slavery is one of the leading causes of ecological devastation and climate change.
Back to the specifics of banking: When we established Dynamic Sustainability Consulting, the time came to search for a suitable small business banking institution. It was important to us, as an organization committed to whole-system sustainability, that we find a financial institution making strides towards exemplary environmental and human-rights principles in business. (As a services-centered industry, the impacts of financial institutions on the environment are principally linked to their successes and shortcomings in human rights.)
Fortunately, watchdog organizations have a growing presence in the global economy. In our search for a financial institution to meet our needs, BankTrack’s Banking with Principles publication from 2014 was a helpful guide, as was the online database of Certified B Corporations. BankTrack reviewed 32 banks against the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In selecting the highest-ranked institution, we were constrained by geography, but we are happy to have made the most responsible possible choice, based on information available to us.