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January 23, 2003

Green Banking
    by William Baue

Ten exemplary "green banking" enterprises were honored recently, highlighting the growth of environment-friendly community investing.

SocialFunds.com -- Although green is the color of the money involved in most banking transactions in the United States, traditional banks often do not practice "green banking," or community investing in environmentally beneficial businesses and nonprofits. However, green banking is becoming more prevalent. Yesterday ten organizations that best exemplify green banking were honored by the Community Investing Campaign, a joint project of the Social Investment Forum (SIF) and Co-op America.

"We are honoring these ten groups today because they are outstanding examples of how community investing dollars quite literally can transform the world in which we live," said Community Investing Campaign Chair Deborah Momsen-Hudson. Ms. Momsen-Hudson is also Vice President of Durham, North Carolina-based Self-Help Credit Union, one of the organizations honored. "The organizations singled out for praise today are among hundreds in the U.S. that are building a better planet through the wise stewardship of community investing dollars."

The honored organizations include such diverse enterprises as Vermont-based Chittenden Bank, San Francisco-based Rudolf Steiner Foundation, and Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Permaculture Credit Union. These and the seven other organizations practice green banking in myriad ways, from forest preservation to clean water production to eco-tourism.

"Community-based financial institutions work with low-income individuals earning the minimum wage in North Carolina to purchase homes, assist impoverished battered women in Texas in opening a community-based shelter, and provide displaced timber workers in the Pacific Northwest with loans to start successful and environment-friendly businesses," said Social Investment Forum Foundation President and SIF Chair-Emeritus David Berge. "In addition to supplying urgently needed capital in under-served neighborhoods, community investment groups make available key services, such as education, mentoring and technical support."

Mr. Berge is also president of Underdog Ventures, which was also singled out for its green community investment through venture capital funds. The related Underdog Foundation illustrates this provision of additional services. Underdog Ventures' investors and invested companies donate portions of their returns to the foundation. The foundation uses the funds to provide communities with grants, mentoring, and technical assistance.

Another honoree, Washington- and Oregon-based ShoreBank Pacific, distinguishes itself as the first environmental bank in the United States. To advance the environmental sustainability of the companies and projects it supports, ShoreBank employs a full-time staff scientist who advises borrowers on efficient energy use, waste and pollution reduction, and natural resource conservation. One such company, Portland, Oregon-based Century West, specializes in sustainable engineering, such as developing fish-friendly hydropower.

"Before I came to ShoreBank Pacific, I had been bounced around by larger banks who did not seem to care about my business and what I was trying to accomplish," said Century West President Ned Dempsey. "Working in sustainable development, I needed to find a banking solution that understood my goals and my business. ShoreBank Pacific recognized that and worked with me to develop a plan to help my company and, more importantly, the planet."

Other sustainable companies have benefited from green banking services offered by the honorees. Chittenden Bank provided loans to furniture handcrafters Bruce Beeken and Jeff Parsons of Shelburne, Vermont. Spurning the wasteful lumbering practice of sawing logs from the outside in and discarding of the heart, Beeken Parsons uses "character wood" harvested from sustainably managed forests, which highlights the knotty beauty of the tree's core.

Other green banking honorees include Coastal Enterprises of Wiscasset, Maine; Vermont Community Loan Fund of Montpelier; Wainwright Bank & Trust Company of Boston; and Sustainable Jobs Fund of Durham, North Carolina.

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