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The Greening of Banking

On the first Earth Day-April 22, 1970-I enthusiastically did my bit for the environmental cause by volunteering with some of my fellow high school students to run a car wash that was supposed to raise money and awareness. Of course it didn't occur to any of us that there was something inherently contradictory about trying to save the environment by washing cars. We felt optimistic and productive and kind of noble. We knew we had done something good, although none of us would have been very succe

On the first Earth Day-April 22, 1970-I enthusiastically did my bit for the environmental cause by volunteering with some of my fellow high school students to run a car wash that was supposed to raise money and awareness. Of course it didn't occur to any of us that there was something inherently contradictory about trying to save the environment by washing cars. We felt optimistic and productive and kind of noble. We knew we had done something good, although none of us would have been very successful at explaining exactly what we had accomplished.I was reminded of this long-ago experience when I started receiving announcements and press releases a few weeks ago from banks and vendors about their 2008 Earth Day initiatives. It all underscored how "hot" (there's a pun there somewhere) a topic green computing has become. The banking industry clearly recognizes that consumers are concerned about the environment and will embrace lifestyle-changing initiatives that help them "do well by doing good." To summarize just a few of the initiatives that were announced recently:

• In conjunction with Earth Week, Toronto-based TD Canada Trust announced it surpassed three million paperless banking customers. According to the bank, in the past year customers who have signed up for TD Canada Trust's Paperless Record Keeping option have saved more than 35 million sheets of paper. TD Canada Trust also offers a Green Mortgage and Green Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC).

JPMorgan Chase joined the Earth Day Network, participating in what it said is "America's largest Earth Day celebration" across eight cities. Additionally, "Pushing its environmental commitment, JPMorgan Chase is increasing its global greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal to 20 percent by 2012 using a 2005 baseline and adding 20-30 green bank branches this year."

• It's not just the biggest banks that are riding the (hopefully non-fossil-fuel emitting) green bandwagon. Cambridge, Ohio-based Advantage Bank partnered with Iron Mountain to host its second community Shred and Protect Day, which, according to the bank's official statement, means that customers are "not only going green; they're taking the stress of tax season off their shoulders."

• The vendor community is also part of the trend. For example, Fiserv's CheckFree unit announced partnerships with a number of institutions, including credit union PSCU Financial Services, to demonstrate the environmental benefits of paying and receiving bills online. "More consumers are realizing that online bill payment is not only convenient, it also contributes to a healthier environment," said Leslie Reistrup, director of eServices at PSCU financial Services, in a statement.

It's great that our industry is embracing the concept of sustainability and environmental responsibility, but with each announcement I began to wonder how much of this activity is for real and how much is hype. There's nothing wrong, and probably quite a lot that's beneficial, about these various initiatives, yet the impact they will have in terms of forestalling climate change remains to be seen. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be bad for "the cause" if public concern and enthusiasm about fighting global warming or saving rivers and oceans turned to cynicism and the sense that it all has been co-opted by big business.

What do you think about green initiatives in the financial services industry? Feel free to leave us your comments.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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