If you’re reading this, you are probably looking for sustainable and ethical banks or a socially responsible credit card that fits your values.

I personally began my ethical banking search, because after years of using and promoting my Chase Sapphire travel reward credit card, I got an email from someone who was at Standing Rock. They politely informed me that Chase bank was one of the biggest funders of the Dakota Access Pipeline and fossil fuels in general. If you don’t know about Standing Rock (and even if you do), I encourage you to watch this Vice video for a first-hand indigenous activist perspective of the events.

This discovery also made me dig into my main bank, USAA, who has invested over $1.2 billion in fossil fuels and doesn’t seem to have plans to divest.

Eventually, I went down a rabbit hole of research to see if there are any truly ethical banks that invest in the sustainable and socially-responsible causes I care about. This post is a quick summary of what I found (with links for further explanations and sources) for those who want them.

You can also check out some of my other sustainability tips and resources here.

First, let’s start with who you should NOT bank with if you want to ensure that your money is being spent in socially and environmentally conscious ways.

Shockingly, U.S. banks spent a combined $1.9 trillion on fossil fuels since the Paris Climate Agreement (end of 2015) was adopted and early 2019.

JP Morgan Chase is the top financier of three major categories of fossil fuel projects: Arctic oil and gas, ultra-deepwater drilling, and liquefied natural gas. They are also the top U.S. bank funding tar sands oil and coal mining. They have spent $268.5 billion on the fossil fuel industry, and almost $65 billion in 2019 alone!

Wells Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America are the next three highest financiers of fossil fuels.

For a much deeper look at banks and their fossil fuel spending, check out the Rainforest Action Network’s Banking on Climate Change report.

Ethical Banks & Financial Companies

There are a couple of options when looking for an ethical bank or financial institution, and they can basically be summed up into two categories:

  • B-Corp/GABV/CDFI certified
  • Credit Unions & Community-Minded Local Banks

Ethical banks, aka “green banks” aren’t just good for the environment, they’re also good for the people in it. Ethical banks make sure that the money you deposit into your bank account, will get invested in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

There are three main certifications that can help you determine if a bank is ethical. Each of these certifications has strict guidelines, so you can be confident that a company with one of the following certifications is participating in environmentally and socially responsible banking practices and that they are being held accountable at every level of their business.

B-Corps

B Corps are companies that “are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.” They go through a long certification process to prove their ethics, and this certification provides transparency and accountability.

GABV (The Global Alliance for Banking on Values)

GABV is an independent network of ethical banks “using finance to deliver sustainable economic, social and environmental development.”

You can find a GABV bank member through their interactive map.

CDFI (Community Development Financial Institutions)

CDFI certified financial institutions are “a network of mission-driven institutions that serve and empower economically distressed communities.”

I review a few of my favorite ethically certified financial institutions I stumbled across on my search below that are great choices for your everyday personal banking needs.

Aspiration

ethical banks aspiration debit card

Aspiration is a B-Corp company that provides sustainable and socially-conscious cash management services and investment products like savings, checking, investment and retirement accounts.

In contrast to the big banks, who fund oil pipelines with your deposits, Aspiration uses your money to plant trees, offset your carbon emissions, and donate to charities helping struggling Americans.

Each dollar that you transfer to Aspiration will prevent 595,250 grams of CO2 from entering our atmosphere and they donate 10% of every dollar their customers pay to charity.

Aspiration accounts are online-only (so there are no physical banks to visit).

They have two versions of a spend and save account. One is free, and one is $15/month but comes with some really cool perks and the associated debit card is made out of recycled ocean plastic!

Both spend and save accounts give you the option to round up your purchases to the nearest dollar to plant trees, give you an ethical impact score that helps you shop your values, and give you access to 55,000 free in-network ATMs.

You can even earn from 3-10% back on Conscience Coalition purchases (depending on the account you choose).

Aspiration is the sustainable banking solution I ended up choosing. If you sign up with my Aspiration link, you’ll get $50 when you open an account and spend $250.

Amalgamated Bank

Amalgamated Bank is a B-Corp and a member of the GABV that offers checking and savings accounts, credit cards, mortgages, and investment opportunities.

They have branch locations in New York and Washington D.C. but give you the ability to do all your banking online.

Their mission is “to be America’s socially responsible bank empowering organizations and individuals to advance positive social change.”

They are net zero, powered 100% by renewable energy, and their investments are fossil fuel free, tobacco-free, weapons manufacturers and private prison free.

They also support immigrants, affordable housing, criminal justice workers’ rights and offer special lines of credit to homeowners for solar panels.

The Amalgamated Foundation explicitly supports nonprofits led by people of color and those fighting for racial justice.

The bottom line: when you deposit money at Amalgamated, it goes to supporting sustainable organizations, progressive causes, and social justice.

Southern Bancorp

Southern Bancorp is a B-Corp, GABV and CDFI certified bank with a Black CEO that offers checking and savings accounts, and personal and business loans.

Southern Bancorp has physical branches in Arkansas and Mississippi, but you can bank with them online from anywhere in the U.S.  

Southern Bancorp’s mission is “to create economic opportunity in rural and underserved communities by providing responsible and responsive financial products and services that balance profits with purpose.” Additionally, 50% of their bank holding board is Black.

*I discuss why it’s important to #BankBlack below.

Credit Unions & Community Banks

Credit unions are member-owned financial cooperatives, controlled by their members and operating on the principle of people helping people.

Local community banks are much more likely to invest your money back into your community than big banks. They may not all bother to get some of the certifications mentioned above, but they are still worth looking into and analyzing where and what they invest their money into.

When you bank with a credit union or a community-minded local bank, your money gets put back into the local community and NOT spent on large fossil fuel projects.

However, they may not be great for travel and nomadic lifestyles because they typically don’t have a large range of ATM locations and will come with out-of-bank ATM fees. Bank services themselves are also going to be limited to the region the bank branch is located in, but you might be able to complete all your banking services online or balance travel expenses with a separate ethical travel credit card.

Banking Black

The banking Black movement has risen from the increase of visible violence targeting Black and brown people and communities. The premise behind banking black is to invest your money into financial institutions that will then invest in low-income communities (predominately Black and brown communities who are left behind by white-led institutions). This also means your money will typically not be spent on fossil fuels and other harmful corporations.

According to an FDIC Minority Depository Institutions Research Study, “the share of home loans made to black borrowers in 2011 was 67 percent for black-owned banks, compared to less than 1 percent for other community banks in that year.” 

In this search, I also discovered BlankBlackUSA, which is a resource (website and app) that helps you find and compare “the financial health and community impact of various black-owned banks.” While most of the banks are location specific, Southern Bancorp (mentioned above) and the two following banks, which are 100% online banks, offer online banking services anywhere in the U.S.:

  • Mocafian African-American owned fintech company that provides banking, credit building, and wealth coaching services for Americans living on the economic margins
  • Paybbya Challenger Bank built to empower the Black and Brown communities to build wealth and gain full access to the benefits of banking

Ethical Credit Cards with Rewards

As a frequent traveler, I have used many cost-saving travel hacks, including using a Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa rewards card, which was indeed full of awesome travel perks. BUT after discovering that Chase is the top financier of global fossil fuel projects, I could no longer justify using a credit card that is so opposed to my values.

I have replaced my Chase card, with an Aspiration debit card, and I am currently sharing my partner’s REI Mastercard (discussed below).

But on my hunt for a more sustainable and socially responsible credit card with travel perks and other rewards, I came across the credit cards below that really stood out.

REI Co-op World Elite Mastercard®

The REI World Elite Mastercard has some really cool perks for your wallet and for the environment, but their card is issued by U.S. Bank (aka U.S. Bancorp), which has a checkered history.

Despite U.S. Bank’s CEO pledging to stop funding oil and gas pipelines in 2017, the following year they financed over $2 billion worth of oil and gas.

Ideally, they and other big banks would immediately prohibit all financing to fossil fuel infrastructure that neglects indigenous rights and the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

On the other hand, US Bank through it’s subsidiary US Bancorp Community Development Corporation has invested more than $10 billion in Renewable Energy Tax Credit projects to achieve the 10-gigawatt milestone.

U.S. Bank, also finances affordable housing, community development projects, and other clean energy projects.

Therefore, U.S. Bank isn’t perfect, but they are slowly moving in the right direction.

The REI Credit Card perks:

  • No annual fee
  • Rewards: 5% back on purchases at REI, 2% back on mobile wallet purchases, and 1% back on everything else
  • Travel Benefits: No foreign transaction fees, Trip Cancellation & Cell Phone Insurance (for trips and bills paid for with the card)
  • REI donates to projects that enhance the outdoors with your purchases

Be sure to use my REI Member referral number: 16695467, if you decide to apply for an REI Mastercard.

Green America Rewards Platinum Visa® credit card

Green America is a non-profit organization working to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.

They have a holistic approach to sustainability by building fair trading systems, advancing clean energy, getting GMOs out of our food supply, and supporting green businesses.

Charity Navigator gives Green America 4/4 stars and a score of 91.75 out of 100.

Additionally, Green America’s CEO only makes 1.52% of their expenses ($67,686/2019) and they made $14,377,450 in Revenue in 2019. As someone who has worked in the non-profit sector, the percentage of income a CEO takes home is an important marker of the organizations priorities and ethics.

The Green America card is issued by TCM Bank, which is a subsidiary of the Independent Community Bankers of America, which provides credit card services to community banks and supports local communities.

green America ethical bank via credit card

Green America Credit Card Perks:

  • No annual fee & Community Bank Minded
  • 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months
  • Rewards: earn one point per dollar on purchases, with no cap on points you can earn, and points never expire
  • Travel Benefits: you can redeem your points for travel rewards and your card provides you with travel accident insurance and auto rental collision damage waiver (restrictions apply)

Amazon Watch Rewards Platinum Visa® credit card

Amazon Watch is a non-profit organization that works to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. The organization is also run by a woman of color.

Charity Navigator gives Amazon Watch 3/4 stars and 82.29 out of 100.

The Amazon Watch credit card helps you support the lungs of our planet and the people who protect it with each purchase you make. This card is also issued by TCM Bank.

Amazon Watch’s Executive Director is making $104,500 (6.58% of the organizations expenses).

Amazon Watch Credit Card Perks:

  • No annual fee & Community Bank Minded
  • 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months
  • Rewards: earn one point per dollar on purchases, with no cap on points you can earn, and points never expire
  • Travel Benefits: you can redeem your points for travel rewards and your card provides you with travel accident insurance and auto rental collision damage waiver (restrictions apply)

Amalgamated Bank Maximum Rewards® Mastercard®

As mentioned above, Amalgamated Bank is a GABV member and B-Corp certified, and is a certified member of Green America’s Green Business Network. Amalgamated supports immigrants, affordable housing, and worker’s rights and they are 100% powered by renewable energy, and have a fossil fuel-free investment policy.

The Amalgamated Bank Maximum Rewards® Mastercard® is issued by by First Bankcard®, a division of First National Bank of Omaha.

On their website, First National Bank of Omaha (FNBO) claims to “invest millions back into our communities, focusing on key areas of need, such as housing, financial literacy and local economies.”

FNBO’s 2019 community impact report shows that they have a community development investment portfolio of $122 million. And in early 2020, they partnered with a sustainability consultant to start lowering their carbon footprint, and set various environmental impact reduction goals.

However, I couldn’t find any information in the way of any potential fossil fuel spending on watch dog organization websites (hopefully that means there isn’t any).

Amalgamated Bank Rewards Card Perks:

  • No annual fee
  • 0% Intro APR for first 6 billing cycles
  • Rewards: Earn 1.5% back on every purchase (but rewards expire after 5 years)
  • Travel Benefits: rewards are redeemable for travel

M&F Bank Personal World Mastercard®

M&F Bank, short for “Mechanics and Farmers Bank” is an independent community, Black-owned and run bank with a CDFI certification. They are also a certified Equal Housing Lender and an Equal Opportunity lender.

M&F Bank offers a few credit cards, but the card below offers travel benefits at the lowest cost and risk.

 M&F Bank Personal World Card Perks:

Sustainable Investment and Retirement Funds

If you are looking for ethical and sustainable investment funds, Fossil Free Fund is a great search platform that allows you to find out if your money is being used for fossil fuel extraction and consumption.

They thoroughly analyze the climate impact of U.S. mutual funds and ETFs and show you which companies are investing your money in fossil fuels and even calculate their carbon footprints. Basically, they make it really easy to align your investments with your values.

Additionally, BankBlackUSA offers a list of Black-owned banks and other companies that you can invest in.

I hope you found this post helpful in your search for more ethical banking options. Please feel free to leave other sustainable and socially responsible banking options in the comments and pin one of the pictures below to save this post for later.

Disclaimers: Some of the links on my website are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you purchase anything at no extra cost to you. Additionally, all info provided is subject to change, so please do your own supplemental research 🙂

sustainable and ethical Banks and socially responsible credit cards
socially responsible banks and credit cards

11 Comments

  1. I appreciate this research. Thank you. I’m wondering if you explicitly included anti-racist criteria/goals in your search. I noted that you used broad terms to describe social and community level action that could subsume anti-racist action. No intention to be critical, just curious.

    1. Hi Scott, thanks for your question. I did include anti-racism criteria in my search, but not explicitly. For example, in regards to the Amazon Watch Credit card- Amazon Watch is run by a woman of color and the non-profit is focused on advancing the rights of indigenous communities. Amalgamated Bank’s foundation explicitly supports nonprofits led by people of color and those fighting for racial justice, and they DO NOT invest in private prisons, or other corporations that perpetuate racial injustice. Overall, all the options I included are in some way contributing to empowering, advancing, and advocating for communities of color, but they are not all equal in their focus on anti-racism. I’m going to make a point of adding some more of these details to the post to help make it more clear for future readers as well. Best,
      Anna

  2. Thank you for this post! I called the Amazon Watch’s provider, which is TMC Bank, to learn more about the travel insurance and they expressed that it is no longer up in the contract. Apparently, from what I understood, Visa is no longer offering that service through TCM and thus through Amazon Watch’s card. It is something to keep in mind or to further verify if you consider that card. I am indecisive because I would benefit a lot from the travel insurance since I like to travel a lot.

    1. Hi Aaron, Thank you for updating me, that’s great to know. I personally always purchase World Nomads travel insurance regardless of if my credit card gives me some coverage, since there isn’t a credit card on the market I’ve found that offers travel insurance that covers everything I want (e.g. medical, emergency, evacuation insurance, as well as insuring my phycial belongings, and the actual cost of the trip). I’ve had some crazy stuff happen while traveling and witnessed a friend rack up $300,000 in medical evacuation bills. So comprehensive travel insurance is a must-have for me. If anyone’s interested, you can check them out here: http://bit.ly/AnnasFavoriteTravelInsurance

  3. Thanks for doing this research! I really want to move at least one if not ALL of my credit cards to more ethical banks. So you have saved me a lot of time with your careful research! It seems so self sabotaging to care about the world, and animals and the environment and social justice, yet spend our money in ways that are harming it. So, many thanks for your efforts.

    1. I’m so glad you found this post helpful. It is ironic how we can make all these other efforts to spend our money responsibly but completely forget about how we bank. I wish I had thought of transitioning to more ethical financial instituitons sooner.

  4. Yes for sure. I posted your article on my FB page and other friends were also glad to see your info and research. I think many of us are concerned about our credit cards and this makes it a bit easier to take concrete action. So thanks again.

  5. Hi Anna, thanks so much for writing this blog! It’s really helpful to have all this info in one place and know someone who is benefiting from it directly. I’m trying to sign up with Aspiration now 🙂

  6. Thank you so much for doing this research and sharing! Really helpful resource. I had a hunch REI’s credit card had some caveats/watchouts. It’s so great to be informed!

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About Author

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van, hiking to a waterfall or glacial lake, and learning about off-grid living the hard way. You can also find her on YouTube as Anna French.

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