To Build a Cleaner, Sustainable Future, We Need to Change Our Banks

I fell in love with snowboarding as a teenager. At that time, I had no idea that my love for a sport would lead to becoming a professional athlete, creating Jones Snowboards, and founding Protect Our Winters, a nonprofit focused on climate change.

I grew up in Cape Cod and my family drove to Vermont every weekend all winter. My two older brothers were both skiers but snowboarding drew me in. I’m not exactly sure why. Back then skiing was the norm. Skiing was established and snowboarding had no defined future. Snowboarding was the iconoclastic challenger. There are parallels here: if you want to create change, you have to disrupt and push for evolution of the status quo. We see that today with climate.

In 2007, we started Protect Our Winters as a way to help the outdoor community combat climate change. It amazed me that fewer than 10% of the companies in the snowsports industry were doing anything to address climate change. It was a huge blind spot. Why was this $20 billion industry not taking steps that would allow it to succeed in the long term?

Climate shouldn’t be the deeply political, hot-button topic it has become. Who doesn’t want clean air, vital oceans, and clean water for generations to come? The science is overwhelmingly clear and the economic solutions are at hand. Climate needs to rise above being politicized.

So how do we get there?

Climate is a massive problem and needs to be addressed in an omni-channel response. No one is perfect and we need to prioritize progress over perfection. Judging others or criticizing individual carbon footprints only slows down the process and favors the stasis we face as a society, a stasis we need to break.

As the apex issue of our generation, climate change requires us to take an all-hands-on deck approach. We need to work together. Small, incremental steps are great. Recycling, public transit, and investing in renewables all make sense. But the best place individuals can have an impact is where their singular actions have a larger result.

One key area of focus is energy. It has been widely reported that just 100 companies are responsible for over 71% of global carbon emissions. Couple this with the fact that the Rainforest Action Network’s Banking on Climate Change report found that 33 banks invested over $1.6 trillion in fossil fuels globally since 2016 and we see that we need to shift our investment away from fossil fuels and into renewables.

This is the definition of energy transition. It won’t happen overnight, but as individuals and business owners, we have to push our banks to invest sustainably.

When you invest your money in a bank, it doesn’t just sit there in a vault. Banks loan out 90% of it in investments to other companies. Not all banks are bad, as many focus on loans to small businesses, renewables, and emerging technologies, but a surprising amount goes into things like fracking, tar sands, arctic drilling, and the like.

Since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015, the big six U.S. banks have loaned nearly $1 trillion to fossil fuel extraction companies. BlackRock, a huge global investor, has said it will divest of coal yet remains heavily invested in other fossil fuel sectors, and insurance company Liberty Mutual not only invests in giant fossil fuel projects, but it insures them as well.

Our climate cannot sustain these kinds of investments. If we want to meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of keeping global temperatures in check, then fossil fuels need to be kept where they are — in the ground.

Banking and investing with environmentally friendly institutions are not just the wise things to do for the planet; it’s also becoming clearer that it’s the smarter financial move. Ask your bank what they invest in.

How is it the smarter move? Consider that economists and investors blamed BlackRock’s $90 billion in losses over the past decade on its investments in fossil fuels over renewable energy. A recent report in the Washington Post states the $1.1 billion Rockefeller Brothers Fund improved its return to heirs of big oil by dumping fossil fuel investments. Just look at the current collapse of the oil market during the COVID-19 crisis.

The future of oil is, at best, on shaky financial ground.

As we look to make a sustainable recovery from COVID, we need to make smart choices and invest in what society can be, not replicate the mistakes of the past. It’s clear that now is the time to act before these critical global resources sustain more irreparable damage. We must end investments in fossil fuels and other environmentally destructive practices. If banks, investors, and insurance companies won’t do it on their own, we should do it for them.

We should all live an examined life. Size up your impact on this planet. The way forward is not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Jeremy Jones is a pioneering snowboarder and the founder and president of Protect Our Winters, a nonprofit that helps passionate outdoor people protect the places and lifestyles they love from climate change.

Photo: Johannes Plenio



Four issues, free shipping, evergreen content…