Lest we forget: The Co-operative Bank’s greatest achievements

The Co-operative Bank is in a right old pickle and there will be many who will, out of anger or embarrassment, be tempted to walk away and find...

The Co-operative Bank is in a right old pickle and there will be many who will, out of anger or embarrassment, be tempted to walk away and find an alternative financial services provider.

But to do so would be to give up on what was not only the shining jewel of the UK co-operative movement for many a year, but a hero brand for sustainable development that was respected the world over.

Everyone from bankmecu in Australia to Vancity in Canada took inspiration from the Co-operative Bank’s Ethical Policy and went on to build kick-bum socially responsible investment agendas of their own.

I’m one hundred percent behind the campaign saveourbank.coop and the idea that if enough customers come together we can protect the Ethical Policy for generations to come. It’s certainly worth a try.

Right now the media are almost exclusively giving voice to those who will twist the knife, but we can’t let all of the good the Bank has done be forgotten. Below, I’ve pulled together just a few of the Bank’s greatest hits. What you see below is the tip of the iceberg — which is why so many charities and campaign groups have signed saveourbank.coop’s Ethical Policy declaration.

Time after time, the Co-operative Bank was there to help good causes get over the line and secure societal change — everything from the UK’s groundbreaking Climate Change Act to a global landmine treaty. As Rocky says: it’s not about how hard you hit; it’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward — that’s how winning is done.

• Launch of world’s first customer-led Ethical Policy. It’s easy to forget just how radical this was back in 1992.  It was unheard of for customers to be polled on where they did and didn’t want their money invested — and by all accounts the Bank of England was none too impressed, but could do little as customers had said this was what they wanted. As early as 1998, the Bank was foregoing investment in fossil fuels extraction and production and the manufacture of persistent bio-accumulative chemicals. To date, the Bank has turned away over £1 billion to businesses that breach the Policy.

• Pioneer of ‘warts and all’ Sustainability Reporting. Back in 1999, the Bank’s first Sustainability Report was not only named the best Social Report in the UK, it went on to receive a special commendation for Stakeholder Reporting at the European Environmental Reporting Awards – there wasn’t even a category back then for the type of triple bottom line reporting it was pioneering. In 2002, it won best Sustainability Report in the UK and Europe and topped the United Nations biennial global survey (which it went on to win again in 2004).

• Award-winning advocate of sustainable finance. The Bank was recognised by the Financial Times as the most sustainable bank in Europe in 2010, 2011 and 2012. No mean feat when you consider that it was shunning investment in the International Finance Corporation because of their fossil fuels investments, who were a co-sponsor of the award. The Bank’s commitment to invest £1 billion in energy efficiency and renewables was a key factor in the winning run.

• Lobbying for good. From its earliest days, co-operators have lobbied for good. But it was the Bank that took things to the next level with its Customers Who Care programme and the mass mobilisation of customers to produce legislative change. No other business, before or since, has better recognised the need for public policy intervention to secure sustainable development. First it was a ban on landmines in 1996, and then it moved on to Disability Prejudice, Human Rights, Third World debt and a host of other issues. It was active in securing far reaching Safer Chemicals legislation in Europe in 2006. It helped secure the world’s first Climate Change Act in the UK in 2008, the same year a global ban on cluster munitions was successfully realised after years of campaigning. Jonathon Porritt has commented that the campaigning activities of the Bank have been as impressive as that of many professional campaign groups.

• Additional research by Ryan Brightwell. A longer list of The Bank’s ethical achievements has been produced at saveourbank.coop/greatest_hits

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