Author: Maciamo Hay. Written in October 2021 (last update January 2023).
Big banks have been financing the destruction of tropical rainforests and the growth of fossil fuel extraction for decades. They share responsibility with companies on the ground burning the Amazon, razing Southeast Asian jungles to replace them with palm plantations, or mutilating the habitat of endangered species like chimpanzees, gorillas, or forest elephants in central Africa. It's time to stop! Don't let your bank finance environmental destruction and fuel climate change with your money! Choose a bank with a positive environmental and social impact. Here are alternatives that we have cherry-picked for you.
Co-operative, carbon-neutral, 5% of profits to local environmental projects
Personal, business, loans, investments, insurance
The environmentally friendly and sustainable banks in Europe
All the following online banks only offer personal bank accounts, except bunq which also has business accounts. So far none of them provide insurance, loans or investments (sustainable investments are also available with Tomorrow). What makes them eco-friendly is that all of them have pledged to use their revenues to finance sustainable environmental projects. The only exception is bunq, which does have a 'relatively' green investment portfolio based on ESG scores. All of the apps come with carbon tracking for purchases, although only half of them provide CO2 offset, and only three of them do it for free for all purchases (Bonsai, Flowe and Tomorrow).
NB: The monthly fee is the lowest one available for adult customers if the bank offers various plans.
Carbon-neutral personal online bank account. Neon Green account (5CHF/month) plants 5 trees per month + 1 tree for every 100 CHF spent.
Great for residents of the Benelux and France!
Bonsai is not a bank, but a payment app that lets you connect to your bank and plants one tree (through the Eden Project every 10 purchases. Actually, they say that they give 10% of their revenue to Eden Reforestation Projects, so in reality the number trees planted should be proportional to the amount of each transaction. Bonsai incorporates loyalty cards from shops and offers discounts on many businesses (Delhaize, Bio-Planet, Belgian railway, Kinepolis, Bol.com, Takeaway.com and so on). Bonsai works with all banks in the Benelux and most French banks. It also works with neobanks like N26 and Wise, but unfortunately not with Tomorrow. The app is available in English, French and Dutch and is compatible with Google Pay and Apple Pay.
Flowe is an excellent choice for people living in Italy. Not only is it free, but they compensate all CO2 from purchases for free as well (max. 3000 kg per year). Technically it is not a bank but a payment app. Because of this deposits are limited to 10,000 with the free plan and 75,000 with the paid plan (10/month).
Banx is a new Belgian online green bank founded by Belfius Bank (see below) and the telecom operator Proximus. It has a rewards system with points that can be converted to discounts at sustainable Belgian shops, but otherwise don't plant tree nor compensate CO2. Banx is free if 5 transactions are made per month - otherwise it's 3.5 per month.
Neon is not technically a bank but holds its deposits at the Swiss Hypothekarbank Lenzburg, which offers a deposit insurance of up to 100,000 CHF. Neon partners with myclimate to make all its accounts carbon neutral. They partner with Wise for international, multi-currency transfers. That allows them to provide favorable interbank rates and no foreign transaction fees. The Neon app is available in English, French, German and Italian. However, at the time of writing, neon is only available for Swiss residents.
Tomorrow used to be free and remains the best deal outside Belgium and Italy as all their plans protect 1mē of rainforest for each euro spent. In contrast bunq plants 1 tree per 100 spent, but only with the expensive EasyGreen plan at 18 per month. For that price it is much more advantageous to plant trees on a specialised website like Tree-Nation, which can plant trees in tropical regions for as low as 1 per tree. Helios and OnlyOne are only available in France and in French, and neither of them plants tree or offsets CO2. Tomorrow is also the only certified B-corp and it has the best app.
Since November 2021 Tomorrow customers benefit from discounts on a series of (German) sustainable brands including green electricity, e-bikes, plastic-free products, refurbished electronics, fresh food deliveries, sustainable clothes, shoes and cosmetics, and so on.
Full banking services means that the bank provides personal and business bank accounts, investments, loans and mortgages, and sometimes more (e.g. insurance and retirements funds). Apart from Triodos, each of these banks are only available in their home country, so the choice will be limited to where you reside.
Note that some German banks charge a negative interest rate of 0.5% for deposits over a certain amount (from 25,000 at UmweltBank, from 50,000 at EthikBank, and on all deposist at GLS Bank).
Fair Finance Guide scores
The Fair Finance Guide reviews banks for all their ethical aspects, providing scores for climate change, nature conservation and biodiversity, human rights, workers' rights, weapons, tax evasion, rewards & bonuses, transparency, corruption, gender equality... At present banks have only been reviewed in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and a few countries outside Europe like Brazil, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
As this page is primarily about the responsibility of banks in nature protection and fighting climate change, we will provide the ratings for these elements as well as the overall ethical score for banks scoring at least 80%. Unfortunately, even within Germany, UmweltBank and Tomorrow were not reviewed.
Overall Ethical Score
De Volksbank (SNS, ASN, BLG, RegioBank)
JAK Members Bank
Other banks with minimal negative impact on the environment
Whereas the above-mentioned banks are actively engaged in environmental protection and/or sustainability, there are other banks that may not clearly advertise such values, but who are not known for investing in fossil fuels or in projects linked to environmental destruction.
All the following banks offer at least one type of free account (no set up fee or monthly fee).
Exclusion of tobacco, gambling, weapons, fossil and nuclear energy, mining, palm oil and soy, and
speculation on agricultural raw materials. Beats account: positive impact on Belgian society (health, planet and people)
A few caveats apply to some banks though. Bank Austria is owned by UniCredit, which finances fossil fuels. Belfius is not very well rated by Fair Finance Guide, although it is the only bank in Belgium with Triodos that scores over 50% for climate change. Revolut lacks transparency in the way it invests its customers' money.
Banks available in several countries
Bank Austria allows foreign individuals to open a bank account even if they do not reside in Austria. Website/app in English and German.
Belfius allows foreigners from the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein to open bank accounts, but they must do it at a branch in Belgium (not online). The website and app are in Dutch and French only.
Bunq is available to all residents of the Eurozone. Website/app in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.
N26 is available in all the Eurozone (except Malta and Cyprus) as well as the United States. Website/app in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
Raiffeisen Bank International is active in 14 countries in Central and Eastern Europe (Austria, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine).
Tomorrow is available to all residents of the Eurozone. Website/app in English or German only.
Triodos is available in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingom (in each local language).
Revolut is available in most of Europe (EU, UK, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland) as well as the United States, Australia, Japan and Singapore. The app is available in 24 languages (although customer support is only in English).
GLS Bank, UmweltBank and Merkur Andelskasse accept customers from abroad, although their website and app are in the local language only.
The best mobile banking apps
Sia Partners examined 135 banks from 17 different countries around the world in 2021. Among the world's top 50 mobile banking apps we find: Belfius (2nd), Revolut (3rd), N26 (5th), Monzo (8th), Starling (9th) and Bunq (13th).
The environmentally friendly and sustainable banks in Oceania
All the following banks offer free accounts (no set up fee or monthly fee) and provide full banking services (personal accounts, business accounts, loans, mortgages, investments, insurance).
Charitable trust for environment and community, ethical investments
The bottom line
For American customers, Aspiration is surely the best online bank at the moment and is available in all states. It offers personal and business checking accounts as well as sustainable investments and retirement funds. The only thing missing is loans, for which you might want to try Climate First Bank (Personal line of credit, home equity line of credit, electric or hybrid auto loans, and residential solar loans) or Amalgamated Bank (mortgages and home equity), although these services may not be available in all states.
Canadians have the choice between DUCA Credit Union and Vancity, but geography will be the determinant factor as Vancity only has branches in British Columbia (mostly around Vancouver), while DUCA Credit Union is based in Ontario. Unfortunately there aren't any sustainable banks in other states yet.
If you live in the UK, you best choice overall is the Nationwide Building Society, which offers full banking services and has a very good mobile banking app. Triodos is also an excellent choice in terms of ethics, but does not offer loans or insurance, and its mobile banking app could be better.
If you live in the Eurozone the best eco-conscious personal current account is probably Tomorrow, which has a great mobile app (one of the highest ratings for both iOS and Android) available in English. Another great alternative is to combine N26 with the Bonsai payment app, so that trees are planted for free with your N26 purchases. For full banking services such as mortgages and insurance, you are going to need a second account in one of the eco-friendly regular banks. This is also true if you live in Norway, Sweden, Denmark or Switzerland, where Tomorrow and N26 aren't not available.
The three sustainable banks in Australia are equally good in terms in ethics, but Bank Australia is a bit more dedicated to the environment and has the edge over the other two when it comes to the quality of its mobile banking app. It's even harder to recommend one of the three listed banks in New Zealand. It will come to personal preference.
The only bank available in all Western countries as well as Japan and Singapore is Revolut. Although it is not an eco-friendly bank per se, it is not involved in corporate finance and therefore should not have any negative impact on the environment. Revolut is a great choice if you travel a lot and need multi-currency accounts, but also for the quality of its app.
List of ecological certifications
1% for the Planet: members contribute at least one percent of their annual sales to environmental causes.
Bank for Good Coalition: coalition of banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions committed to a fossil-free future.
B-Corp: Certified B Corporation, a certification of social and environmental performance.
Climate Active: partnership between the Australian Government and Australian businesses to measure, reduce, and offset carbon emissions to lessen negative impact on the environment.
FEBEA: European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks and Financiers.