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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: Your Guide to Personal Fossil Fuel Divestment

By Mary Mazzoni

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

Global Divestment Mobilization week kicked off today and will run through May 13. And activists are calling on individuals and families to take a second look at their investments and how they support fossil fuels.

In advance of the occasion, Green Century Capital Management, in collaboration with Trillium Asset Management and 350.org, released a personal guide to divestment and reinvestment -- targeted at individuals, not big businesses or pension funds.

“Given the current political and regulatory environment, we are seeing more investors looking for ways get off the sidelines and use their investments to help make a positive impact,” said Leslie Samuelrich, president of Green Century Capital Management.

“We can’t stand by waiting for our governments to do the right thing. Divesting sends one clear message globally: It is time to end the age of fossil fuels because that’s what it really means to solve the climate crisis,” added Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.

Want to shed fossils just in time for divestment week? Read on for the need-to-know.

Your bank and credit cards

Despite being nearly a decade removed from the Great Recession, big banks can't seem to stay out of the press for the wrong reasons.

Wells Fargo landed on hit lists for a fake accounts scandal and its reported backing of high-profile fossil fuel projects.

Likewise, divestment calls quickly swarmed around the 35 banks funding the embattled Dakota Access Pipeline. And last year a group of NGOs, including BankTrack and the Sierra Club, railed against big banks for pouring hundreds of billions into the most "extreme" fossil fuel projects, such as tar sands, offshore drilling and coal mining. Some of the world's most popular banks -- JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley and BNP Paribas -- were cited as the worst offenders.

While it's easy to overlook it, big banks are getting all of this investment money from one place -- their customers. Yes, the money banks 'borrow' from our checking and savings accounts are usually used to make loans, not investments. But the fees collected from accounts and credit cards line the coffers of these banks' investment funds.

Of course, not all of it is invested in fossils -- but a good chunk ends up there, even if banks are simply seeking a 'diversified' portfolio. According to the divestment report from 350.org and partners, 8 cents of every dollar spent in the S&P 500 goes toward the world's largest fossil fuel companies.

So, what can you do about it? You have a few options:

  • Credit unions: Credit unions offer competitive interest rates and fees, and they spend their money locally -- not on national or international fossil fuel projects. For help finding a credit union that suits your needs, check out MyCreditUnion.gov.

  • Community development banks: These are more common in big cities. But if you can find one, you should think about it. Much like credit unions, community development banks spend money locally, and they take it one step further by intentionally investing in projects that serve low-income people. A simple Google search will help you find one near you, or you can check out this list from the Community Development Bankers Association.

  • Explore other options at Green America's BreakUpWithYourMegaBank.org.

Your investment accounts and 401(k)

If you're saving for retirement, remember that your money will be busy long before it pays for that sweet senior living spot in Boca Raton. Many mutual funds invest in energy, materials or utility companies on 350.org's list of the top 200 fossil fuel reserve owners.

350.org and partners suggested a few simple ways to clean up your personal investments. First, you can find out what's in your current mutual fund by checking out its latest annual report. If you decide you're not happy with the results, you have a few options at your disposal.

The 350.org report outlines ways to assess potential funds side-by-side, and how to track down a socially responsible investing advisor that suits your needs. It'll also help you start that awkward conversation with your human resources rep about moving your company's 401(k) into a cleaner fund.

If you're just looking for a few names, click here to see the mutual funds and investment managers compiled by 350.org and here to see suggestions from Green America.

Your electricity and transportation

Not everyone can slap solar on their roof or go buy an electric car. As prices for these technologies continue to fall, this is beginning to change. But in the meantime, if you can't afford a new car or a flashy solar array, there are still a few ways you can clean up your personal energy and transportation use.

Yes, the mainstays like turning off lights and appliances, taking public transportation, and carpooling still hold true. But you can go a bit further.

Some utilities give customers the option to buy renewable energy from a shared facility. Contact your local utility or check out their website for your options. If nothing else, utilities often partner with carbon offset providers to let you offset your home energy use by investing in carbon-reduction projects. Not sure if offsets are right for you? Check out this guide from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Image credit: Pixabay

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni