Bank of America: Green or Greenwashed

cash.jpgAs the largest consumer and small business bank, BofA (NYSE: BAC) can have a major positive or negative impact on the environment. Since March, 2007, the bank has taken on a $20 billion initiative to “encourage environmentally friendly business activity” over the next decade. Applauded by some and criticized by others, just how green is this bank?
Crystalline Tower Office Building in Manhattan
BofA’s new 2.1 million square foot tower is being heralded as the world’s greenest skyscraper. The building features a passive solar design, the use of recycled and renewable materials, and work stations with individual climate controls. Natural elements include the use of rain water and a green roof reduces energy use for heating and cooling.

“First of all, it is the right thing to do for the planet,” said Senior Vice President, John Saclarides, when asked about the greening of the BofA tower. “No. 2 is the corporate responsibility. Bank of America is one of the leading corporations in the world, including profitability. We feel it is our responsibility to set an example for others to follow and show it can be done. This also causes the advancement of technologies used in green engineering.”
Green Banking Centers
Of the $20 billion for green initiative, $1.4 billion is earmarked for achieving LEED (U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for all new office space and bank centers. Located in Adelanto, California, BofA recently opened one of the most eco-friendly banks in the nation.
The roof is lined with 64 photovoltaic solar panels that generate 60% of the bank’s electricity. Insulation is made from recycled blue jeans and counters are made of pressed wheat.
Saving Trees
BofA decreased paper used for internal operations by 32% from 2000 to 2005, as the customer base grew by 24%. This initiative saved over a billion sheets of paper. Their internal recycling program processes 30,000 tons of paper annually, saving roughly 200,000 trees every year.
Hybrid Vehicle Reimbursement
185,000 U.S. employees are eligible for a reimbursement of $3,000 for the purchase of a hybrid vehicle. As of May, 2008, nearly 2,000 workers had taken advantage of this offer.
“This benefit began as a pilot in 2006 in L.A., Boston and Charlotte and was so well received internally that last year we expanded it to all associates company-wide,” says Senior Vice President of Media Relations Colleen Haggerty.
Credit Card Reduces Carbon Footprint
Partnering with Brighter Planet, BofA offers a Visa card that helps fund renewable energy projects. By spending $1000, one ton of carbon emissions are offset, which is the equivalent of taking a car off the road for 2,000 miles.
coal%20plant_small.jpgFunding Coal Creates Scrutiny
BofA has been boycotted by the Rainforest Action Network for being the top funder of mountain top removal mining and a lead financial backer of new coal-fired power plants. Mountain top removal mining is a highly invasive practice that has destroyed 1,200 miles of streams, flooded communities, and disrupted sources of drinking water.
The Carbon Principles however established guidelines for banks to consider the risk factors of loans to power companies and were adopted by BofA. The Principles take into consideration that the U.S. may eventually cap carbon emissions and that there may be a cost for them, thus factoring in future liabilities that may be incurred. Although the Principles certainly help protect banks and can be in their best financial interests, it also has environmental benefits.
Do the BofA’s green initiatives have enough teeth to green the bank or is it mostly just a green washing effort? Do you consider such things before choosing a bank?

Related Posts on Corporate Social Responsibility:

Is Greenwashing Good?
How banking became green

Sarah Lozanova is a green copywriter and communications professional specializing in renewable energy and clean technology. She is a consultant for Sustainable Solutions Group and a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Home Power, Earth911, and Green Builder. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine.

8 responses

  1. I just stopped by to thank you for writing about mountaintop removal coal mining and one of the banks that is financing it.
    If you ever need any more resources for blogging about surface mining, drop me a line!
    If you havent already, please consider joining the Blogger’s Challenge and adding a WIDGET to TriplePundit. To date, 470 bloggers have taken the challenge!
    Again, thanks, and take care. – –

  2. Waaaaaay back in 1995, Bank of America published an outstanding report entitled “Beyond Sprawl: New Patterns of Growth to Fit the New California“.
    It’s one of the landmark pierces making the financial case against wasteful consumption and sprawl development. That report put BofA in a favorable light for me a long time ago. Still, their propensity to nickle and dime the customer with outrageous and obnoxious fees for practically everything you do (sneeze in a branch, that’ll be a 25 cent kleenex fee) has made be loathe them.
    Happy to see some systemic change, but for now, my money is with New Resource Bank.

  3. Ok, but what kind of companies are they lending to and funding? What is their track record of social responsibility? What was their role in this whole credit mess? Dig deeper and get passed the PR department. Plus, when I had an account with them, trying to actually get a live person was impossible… and don’t even think about asking them to reverse fees.

  4. Sounds like some good initiatives here. Even if it is motivated to increase profit, getting LEED certified banking centers alone has a significant impact and is a move other corporations should emulate. However, some of these programs, such as the credit card may in fact simply inspire people to buy more. That’s the problem with a lot of greenwashing is that it just encourages consumerism, which is a leading contributor to overall environmental degradation and energy waste.
    More on greenwashing: What Is Sustaniability?

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