I work as a lecturer in the School of Education, originally from Michigan in the US...and am excited to experiment!
My challenge
Look at my home use of fossil fuels and take steps to divest (eg, bank, energy)

Hi everyone,

A final post from me with some good news and a few resources I have found helpful in this challenge. 

The good news: I got my new bank card in the mail – check it out!! I still have yet to transfer over most of my transactions – covid has struck our house so has gotten in the way of a lot of things – but that will be April’s challenge.

I have also managed to write a letter to my bank to say ‘so long, farewell.’ It’s copied below – help yourself to it if you are thinking of doing the same…

I started it from a template from this web site: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/money-finance/template-letter-after-you-have-switched-bank-accounts

And also used some information about my bank from this site – you can search most multinational banks here too: https://www.bankingonclimatechaos.org/#fulldata-panel

And also found a little inspiration from Kim Nicholas’ blog (Her blog is great and her book Under the Sky We Make is fantastic, though if you’re on the Climate Change and Education unit, you will know about this already :)): https://wecanfixit.substack.com/p/dont-be-fossil-fooled-celebrating?s=r

It’s been wonderful keeping up with all your blogs this month and I’ve loved our conversations at the catch ups. Hope we can all meet up sometime soon in the spring too to keep the momentum going! 

Alison 🙂

Account Number: [account number] [insert address]
Sort Code: [sort code]
Dear NatWest

I am writing to inform you that I have closed my account with NatWest and have moved my money to a more responsible bank. I also will not be opening any further bank accounts with you until you improve your approach, commitment and transparency in relation to sustainability and divestment of fossil fuels, and I will be encouraging others to follow my lead. Notably, I am part of a cChange challenge at my workplace, the University of Bristol, and I am sharing this letter with students and colleagues I am doing the challenge with too.

At this time in the world, making personal choices about where and how we invest our money, time and energy requires more careful consideration than ever – and at the heart of those choices should be the impact they have on social, environmental and governance outcomes. These impacts are equal to or arguably more important than financial bottom lines and returns to investors – something that NatWest itself recognizes in copy from your ‘Climate Change Hub’ on the website: ‘We have committed to an ambitious new goal of providing an additional £100 billion of Climate and Sustainable Funding and Financing between 1 July 2021 and the end of 2025.  Not only are we aligning capital in a more sustainable way, but we also know that it makes good business sense.’

I appreciate that your bank is taking steps towards a more sustainable and ESG-oriented approach to banking. However, I have decided to cease banking with you because the timescale of change is too slow and the detailed information about NatWest’s investment in fossil fuels is not accessible or transparent enough for me or presumably most of your everyday banking customers.

My specific complaints and reasons for leaving your bank include:

• Continued significant investment in fossil fuels: According to the Banking on Climate Chaos organization, NatWest has invested $14,843.60 million USD in fossil fuel companies since 2016. While some of this investment is undoubtedly supporting renewable energy infrastructure, investment in certain oil and gas companies has increased in this period.

• Lack of transparency in ongoing coal investment: While there are updated NatWest coal policies from November 2021, which include a plan to exclude investment in new coal production, there are exceptions for companies with credible transition plans and no precision on these exceptions or a full phase out, which is not transparent or clear enough. More precise definition of this must be given to ensure your commitment to phasing out these investments by 2030 is upheld.

• Clear and specific customer-facing information: Detailed information about NatWest’s own commitment to divesting from fossil fuels and making more sustainable investments are hidden amongst web pages mostly devoted to ideas on how individuals can reduce their own carbon footprints. While important, this individualized framing of climate change solutions is also not enough. Institutional change is also needed, and multinational corporations like NatWest can play a leading role in catalysing this change. What customers like me want to see is accessible, specific and clear descriptions of what NatWest 1) is currently investing in; 2) commits to doing to reduce its own carbon emissions and 3) is planning to do in changing its investments so that the bottom line is one where issues of environmental, social and governance concerns take centre stage. 

As it stands, the web pages currently devoted to Banking and Climate Change focus on debit cards, new uniforms and individual customer behaviour – and not the bank’s own investment portfolio. As such, the commitment to sustainability NatWest purports to comes across as a case of ‘greenwashing’ and little else. 

I urge you to develop comprehensive and transparent lending and investment policies and customer-facing information so that the commitment you claim to have is apparent and offered up for accountability, and so that it is easy for your customers to see where their money is going and what they are supporting.

Considering the irrefutable evidence that our reliance on fossil fuels is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable, I am choosing to leave your business and invest my daily banking practices and investments with a financial institution that does not fund the fossil fuel industry. Through these investments and services, NatWest facilitates and profits from climate catastrophe, something I no longer choose to do with you.

Yours sincerely,
Alison Oldfield

Well it’s taken nearly the whole challenge, but I’ve finally opened a new bank account and am just awaiting approval before I can start using it. I have chosen to switch to Triodos, as I thought I probably would (and as Alf kindly recommended :))

Lots of reasons for choosing this bank – its HQ is in Bristol, so very local; it is really transparent about what it does and does not invest in (fossil fuels, weapons, tobacco); and its ethos is around a much more integrated ‘bottom line’ – looking at the impact of banking on society and sustainability rather than purely measuring risk and return, financial performance or how to maximize returns to stakeholders.  There is a flat £3 month fee for a current account, but an explanation of why this is and how Triodos avoids other hidden costs on the web site.

It feels exciting to make this change after thinking about it for a long time. So while I wait for my application to be approved, I’m off to write an ‘I’m breaking up with you’ letter to my current bank, will share that here next week if anyone else wants to borrow it too! 😊

The first part of the challenge for me is to look at my bank and see if I should change to one that is more committed to investing in the things I want to invest it – or not investing in those I don’t! I’ve thought I should do this for a long time but have also equally put it off, dreading the admin that I assume comes with it. So many aspects of my life are connected to those account numbers!

My bank is NatWest, a ‘high street’ commercial bank in the UK and when I became their customer, there wasn’t any choice at all involved – it was the only one that would take me! I joined them when I moved here from the US to go to university 17 years ago, and I don’t think banks were too excited to sign on students like me at that time 🙂

So I started this task today reading what my bank has to say on the matter of sustainability and climate change. Their web presence doesn’t shy away from it, and climate change is at the top of the web pages entitled ‘Our Purpose.’ The climate change ‘hub’ main page talks about helping me as a customer make ‘more sustainable choices’ and helping customers feel ‘more confident about your money today, and in the future.’  In short, their approach seems to take a couple strands: personal, individual cutting of carbon emissions and then also a commitment to reduce their own investments in fossil fuels/carbon emissions (less focus on this one on this page tho!).

The first strand probably sounds familiar – an individually focused approach to helping us each think about and reduce carbon emissions – but also spun with added benefits, so they offer tips how to ‘save money and help the planet too.’ These include a carbon footprint calculator and also tips on how to reduce waste and energy use and improve energy efficiency in homes – mostly links to other agencies/schemes. I was less interested in this part and felt like they were clearly trying to emphasise this over their own actions. 

On this second strand though, there was some info about investments and commitments. The web site says the Personal Portfolio Funds (themselves managed by Coutts) are ‘responsible investments.’ What might this be, you wonder? And I quote: ‘Responsible investing focuses on companies and industries who positively affect our world in three key areas: environmental, social, and governance (ESG)’. (I’d heard about ESG from a friend last weekend so I’ve pocketed that acronym away to look at another day. Interestingly, the bank also provides a financial bottom line for the reasons that we should care about ESG: ‘These factors are not based on moralistic beliefs, they make good financial sense. That’s because there’s a strong link between stock price performance, and companies who have good corporate practices.’)

There is also a very long Climate-related Disclosures Report that I bravely skimmed but admittedly understood very little. From all this, I could deduce that the bank is clearly doing a lot across its operations and investment portfolio to reduce carbon emissions, and I could appreciate how complex this is. The summary commitments seem to be:

• Becoming ‘climate positive’ by 2025 (A new phrase for me! And not clearly defined – a related link to their ‘climate plans’ takes you back to the page with tips on how to reduce energy use and track your carbon footprint.)
• Halving the impact on the climate of the projects they help to fund by 2030  (though the way this is calculated seems based on estimates for the most part as far as I could tell)
• Full phase out of coal investment by 2030
• Net zero by 2050

My initial reaction to all this is to a) feel overwhelmed by all the language and terms I don’t fully understand, b) to feel the primary focus on customer-facing pages is what individuals can do and not transparent explanation on what the bank is doing and c) to think that while the bank is clearly taking steps to divest of fossil fuels, it’s not happening apace. So I am ending today thinking I was right to want to change … next step to look at other options and see how they compare to what I’ve read today.

Hope everyone has great weekends and challenges are going well!

This month, I want to look at and take steps to reduce the (often unseen) ways that my household is invested in fossil fuels. I’ve been thinking for awhile now how my family and I are part of systems and have everyday habits that use fossil fuels in ways I’m not aware of or can actually ‘see’. This includes where I put and invest our finances, the energy I use (just got shoved on to a new provider when mine went under), tools and tech I rely on, waste I produce, and lots more. That’s much too much to think about at once so this month I’d like to spend time looking at a few specific things and make thoughtful changes about them. I’ll start with looking at and possibly changing my bank, who I give nearly daily business to without knowing much about their opinion or approach to sustainability.  Then I want to look at energy providers, then I’ll see how far I get…!

But I also wanted to share something I heard on the radio yesterday morning that was beautifully connected to where I’m at with this challenge. I didn’t realize that March 1 is also Shrove Tuesday this year – the day before the Christian period of Lent – until I heard a short piece about it on Radio 4, when Reverand Lucy Winkett talked about the meaning of ‘shriving,’ a new word for me but one which rather spookily fit lockstep with the start of my challenge. (You can listen to the piece here, it’s only a few minutes long)

She framed her discussion of ‘shriving’ in the current and developing war in Ukraine and how we as citizens outside that country react to situations we feel helpless in and how we might wonder what we would do in those situations. She explained that ‘shriving’ refers to ‘an ancient practice which is not about what we would do if we were someone else but is about the reality of being us and making real change in the real world today, asking not what would I do but what am I doing. How am I living? What should I stop doing?’ 

She described shriving as a practice of personal reflection, decision making and change and involves ‘honest introspection in the bracing company of others’ which ‘isn’t a retreat into a private spirituality either because the answers to those questions include my willingness to engage, create or protest; my decisions in so far as I can make them about what I do with my money and time; the degree to which I add my voice to, for example, the debate about the responsibility to war or the refugees or the sanctions regime.’ Parts of this resonated a lot with me – in this space, this challenge is about my own willingness to engage, create and protest; make decisions about what I do with my money and time and where I add my voice in the debates about the responsibility to climate change – and all in the company of fellow cChangers.

The ‘profound challenge’ of shriving (and the associated time of Lent), she suggested, ‘is not just to speculate what I would do if I was someone else but to insist that change is possible even today, in the one precious life that, connected with all humanity, I live myself.’  

Such a fitting start, hope others are going well too!