• Nearly £150 billion invested in fossil fuels since Paris Agreement by UK banks.
  • Biggest UK banks are presenting a confusing and conflicting account of their sustainability initiatives to customers.
  • New research reveals UN Sustainable Development Goals are not mentioned once on websites of leading UK banks.

This week, model and activist Lily Cole has joined the call for the banking sector to respond to the climate emergency, alongside ethical bank Triodos. 

Following the global climate strike on 20 September and with Extinction Rebellion’s next uprising fast approaching, pressure is building for the banking sector to live up to its climate commitments.

According to NGO BankTrack, the top UK banks have poured nearly £150 billion into financing fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2016, including £45bn for the expansion of fossil fuels of which £13bn was invested in fracking1. Change from the sector is required, especially if we are to meet the UK government’s target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

New research by insight agency Kingfisher, which assessed over 800 web pages, has found that UK banks are presenting a confusing and conflicting account of their sustainability initiatives to customers2, despite public concern for climate change reaching a record high in recent months.

The report, commissioned by Triodos Bank UK, found that the biggest high street UK banks share very little information on sustainability ambitions on their customer-facing websites and only present generalised statements, claims and commitments.

Key findings are as follows:

  • UN Sustainable Development Goals are not mentioned once by the UK’s biggest banks, while the term ‘sustainability’ occurs only four times. 
  • Collectively, the biggest UK banks only mention the term ‘planet’ three times on their websites.
  • One high street bank references its sustainability commitments repeatedly, while at the same time continuing to finance fossil fuels to the tune of £47 billion since 2016.
  • Two high street banks do not mention any of the key terms analysed – green, sustainability, SDG, planet or carbon – on their UK retail banking websites.
  • Leading UK banks prioritise the terms ‘rewards’, ‘fees’, ‘risks’ and ‘services’, over words like ‘sustainability’ and ‘impact’.

Actress and social entrepreneur Lily Cole comments: “I’ve long believed in voting with your wallet for the change you want to see in the world, for example supporting Fairtrade and organic food and fashion, yet there are other subtle and powerful ways that our money shapes the world – such as the investments made by our banks, pensions and the institutions we work with.

“I heard about Triodos a long time ago. When Triodos offered a current account in the UK, I immediately joined the bank, as I didn’t want to be accidentally investing in the arms trade and fossil fuel industry, and instead enjoy knowing that Triodos is mindful about investing in a positive vision for our planet.”

CEO of Triodos Bank UK, Bevis Watts, adds: “We are in a state of climate emergency and the banking industry needs to radically transform to be part of the solution. Banks should be using the money deposited with them in their customers’ long term interests – yet many have continued to prioritise funding the fossil fuel industry, despite its devastating impact on the planet and our future wellbeing. Although we’re aware that the change cannot happen overnight, we’d like to see greater transparency from all banks in where they are investing their money, so that customers can make informed choices.

“We want more people to know that switching banks is one of the most powerful environmental changes you can make as an individual by changing your bank you really can make a difference in the world. You can choose to prevent your money from financing arms, pesticides, plastic packaging or fossil fuels.”

Craig Bennett, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, said:Too many UK banks are failing to take the climate emergency seriously. How can they talk about wanting to serve society while investing in planet-wrecking projects such as fossil fuel extraction? Funding the destruction of our planet is certainly not in the best interest of customers.

“It’s great to see Triodos continuing to shine a light on the unethical finance models of many UK banks, and we’re proud as an organisation to be partnered with them. By empowering people to do good with their finances we can create positive environmental outcomes, and put pressure on other banks to change their practices.”

Triodos Bank, which has been operating in the UK for over 24 years, only invests in projects creating positive social and environmental outcomes. Its UK current account launched in 2017 and customers can instantly see details of all the ethical and sustainable businesses and projects Triodos finances across the UK via its ‘Know where your money goes’ platform.

Find out more about how you can make a positive impact on the world by switching bank at triodos.co.uk.

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1Data taken from BankTrack report ‘Banking on Climate Change’ referring to leading UK banks (Barclays, HSBC, RBS, Standard Chartered, Santander) amount of financing for fossil fuels between 2016-18 converted to GBP, using the US:GBP exchange rate as of 12.09.19 (0.813496).
2Discourse Analysis Research was conducted by Kingfisher Consultancy Services based on publicly available  website content in August 2019. A total of 834 pages were analysed across the retail banking websites of HSBC, Lloyds, Natwest, Barclays, Standard Chartered and Triodos Bank.

For further information, please contact:

Ellie James

Ed Grattan

Notes to editor

About Triodos Bank

Founded in 1980, Triodos Bank has become a frontrunner in sustainable banking globally. As an independent bank that promotes responsible and transparent banking, it does not see any conflict between a focus on people and the planet and a good financial return. Instead it believes that they reinforce each other in the long-term.

Triodos Bank has banking activities in the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Spain, Germany and France as well as Investment Management activities based in the Netherlands but active globally. Triodos Bank co-founded the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV), a network of 54 sustainable banks. Together these banks want to grow sustainable banking and its impact on the real economy substantially.

Triodos Bank UK Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Triodos Bank NV. Registered Office: Deanery Road, Bristol, BS1 5AS. Registered in England and Wales Company No. 11379025. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority under registration number 817008. VAT reg no 793493383.