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Historically, the only “green” that banks cared about was the government-approved currency kind, but that’s changing, and fast. Banks like Wells Fargo (Stock Quote: WFC), TD Bank (Stock Quote: TD) and Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC) are all bringing unique wrinkles to the financial side of the environmental movement. Here are a few of the freshest, best ideas.

Make no mistake, more and more banks are climbing aboard the environmentally-sound bandwagon. Most are doing so altruistically, but most are also doing it for good public relations. For example, a recent study by the PayItGreen Alliance estimates that one household’s annual paper statements from banks would strip 24 square feet of forest each year. The study also finds that U.S. households receive about 19 bills and statements from financial institutions each month.

Banks may have no problem stripping $36 from your checking account for an overdraft, but they draw the line at ruining forests to create millions of bank statements — especially when it’s cheaper for them to handle their customer banking business online.

So, besides paperless statements, what are some other ways that banks are going green? Let’s take a snapshot and see where the trends are going:

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  • JPMorgan Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) and Bank of America are both charter members of the PayItGreen Alliance, a consortium of 11,000 financial institutions that touts the use of electronic bank transactions over paper-based ones. The banking group’s goal is to get 10% or more of Americans to switch from paper statements and bills to online ones. At 10% across the board (or about 11.4 million U.S. homes) the alliance estimates that going green would save 75,469,808 pounds of paper, 905,638 trees and avoid producing 1.96 million pounds of greenhouse gases (the equivalent of taking 162,861 cars off the road).
  • TD Bank is in the midst of a “green” buying spree. The bank, which has about 1,000 branches nationwide, says it’s buying wind, solar and other renewable energy sources — about 31,000 tons of carbon offsets in all. The bank is also building a prototype “green” branch that reduces energy consumption by 50% compared to traditional bank branches. The 10 new green branches will also generate up to 20% of their own electricity on the premises, primarily through solar panels on the building’s roof. The first such branch is slated to open in Queens, N.Y., this spring.
  • Bank of Scotland has announced that it’s cutting its UK carbon emissions by 65% during the past two years. The bank has done so via the use of 100% Kyoto-compliant carbon credits. Overall, the bank reports that it has reduced emissions from 163,000 tons in 2004 by 57,000 tons in 2006.

As more banks go green and leverage that good PR for more green in their vaults, expect more financial institutions to copy the model.

The moral of the story? In this case, at least, it’s easy being green.

For some tips on how bank customers can tap into their inner environmentalist, check out these tips from TD Bank.

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