Large initiatives often start on a local scale, making regional financial institutions a driving force behind economic and cultural development nationwide. Supported by the technologies and economic needs of the current society, banks often mirror a region's progressive ideals. Thus, as our society has moved through waves of globalization, consolidation, deregulation and diversification, we've seen our financial institutions adjust accordingly.
There are more than 6,800 FDIC-insured banks in the United States. As the public becomes more aware of the need for environmental protection and sustainable infrastructure, more of these banks are turning to green practices that help preserve our natural resources. Hopefully, green banking will become the norm as preservation of our environment becomes more urgent -- including paperless systems, energy efficient buildings, charging stations that promote the use of electric vehicles, and the use of organic and non-toxic products.
Ken LaRoe, founder of First GREEN Bank, a Florida bank with a global mission, founded his bank on the principles of positive environmental and social responsibility that he believes is a sustainable business model.
"As an entrepreneur and fervent environmentalist, I believe green banking is the wave of the future," explains LaRoe. "Operating as a bank rooted in values-based principles and environmental sustainability has allowed my company to achieve tremendous profitability, while making a profound impact on the local community. I'm committed to the idea that a good business should be holistic--not only making a profit, but having a positive impact on society as well."
History of values-based banking
In May of 2012, First Green Bank became the first bank in the eastern United States to be granted membership in the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV). First Green Bank was also a founding member of the North American chapter of the GABV, along with New Resource Bank and Beneficial State Bank, both based in California, Sunrise Bank in Minnesota, and Vancity, Affinity Credit Union, and Assiniboine Credit Union, all in Canada. Over the past five years, First Green Bank helped grow the North American chapter of GABV with the addition of new members: Southern Bancorp in Arkansas; City First Bank of DC; Vermont State Employees Credit Union; and Amalgamated Bank, which has branches in New York City, Washington D.C., and California.
The GABV now comprises 36 financial institutions and four strategic partnerships operating in countries across Asia, Africa, Australia, Latin America, North America and Europe. Collectively, they serve more than 24 million customers, hold approximately $110 billion of combined assets under management, and are supported by more than 42,000 co-workers.
The GABV is a network of banking leaders from around the world committed to advancing positive change in the banking sector. Their goal and commitment is to change the banking system so that it is more transparent, supports economic growth as well as social and environmental sustainability, and is composed of a diverse range of banking institutions.
Establishing a green business
LaRoe notes: "As business leaders, we have a responsibility to our community and the people in it. When I started First GREEN Bank, I wanted to set us apart from all the other financial institutions. Values-based banking was unheard of in the southeastern region of the United States, where most bankers tend to fall on the conservative side of the political spectrum, focused neither on prioritizing environmental standards nor considering issues of social equality.
My true passions are environmentalism and conserving our planet's valuable resources, which led me to go beyond just values-based banking and really hone in on my mission--to focus on positive environmental impacts and social responsibility as a fundamental part of my business model. We prioritize our role in keeping our planet healthy through our day-to-day operations as well as our long-standing initiatives. By investing in the highest quality sustainable designs, our branches are all LEED-certified, from Silver to Platinum. In addition, we have funded local charities and built strategic partnerships with other values-based programs and projects that seek to "do good" while doing well. This outward focus has been a key to the success of our own company.
The future of values-based banking
With millennials now the largest generation in our country, the future of values-based banking looks promising. This cohort is becoming more established in the workforce, and they consider sustainable values when making important financial and purchasing decisions. Reaching these consumers can be tricky for old-school businesses. Millenials don't care about many of the concerns of their parents and grandparents did. They want to feel that the dollars they spend are helping their local community and preserving the environment.
Larger corporations aren't blind--they also see these trends. This is evident in the food industry where huge brands like Mills and Coca Cola are busily buying up small eco-friendly and organic food brands. All of these conglomerates have huge marketing teams who spend countless hours crafting "Corporate Social Responsibility" reports and campaigns to make consumers believe they are advocates of values-based business. But today's consumers aren't buying it; they can tell when a company is being sincere, or simply expedient.
In order to be genuine, business principles must remain consistent across all fronts. The company's values transcend every level, presenting a unified, values-based message to customers, investors and employees. Once those values are communicated internally, the organization can project that message consistently from the inside outwards.
"I truly believe businesses that prioritize environmental and social justice, and work to permeate these values throughout our communities and across the country, will come out on top," adds LaRoe. "I hope that my business story and industry success inspires other entrepreneurs to start values-based businesses of their own. There's nothing better than waking up every morning knowing that you're having a positive impact in the world." When your employees, clients and partners are invested in your company's values, and you hold true to them across a broad range of issues, success will follow."