Seven of Bloomberg’s Top Ten ‘Greenest Banks’ Are Climate Killers

Written by Yann Louvel

This week, Bloomberg published the results of its third annual ranking of the “world’s greenest banks”: Citi was ranked first, followed by Santander and JPMorgan. The study assesses banks based on their lending to clean-energy projects and reduction in their own power consumption and carbon footprints. However, banks’ support for dirty energy, such as fossil fuel and nuclear power, is notably absent from Bloomberg’s methodology. When the value of banks’ finance for fossil fuels so often dwarfs their investments in renewables, Bloomberg’s data does not even tell half of the story.

Measuring the Good, Ignoring the Bad

One question mark over Bloomberg’s ranking is its definition of “clean energy”, and in particular its inclusion of hydropower (including large environmentally and socially destructive dam projects) and biomass/biofuels in this definition.

But the fundamental problem with its approach lies in the complete omission of banks’ investments in fossil fuels and nuclear energy.  While banks’ growing investments in green energy are to be welcomed, it is even more crucial that investments in fossil fuels drop drastically in the coming years if we are to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic global warming. The ratio of green to “brown” investments would provide a meaningful study on the level of “greenness” of a bank, but looking at clean investments alone makes this little more than a PR exercise for the banking sector.

To give a concrete example of this problem, BankTrack, together with urgewald, Groundwork and Earthlife Africa, released the “Bankrolling Climate Change” report in Durban in 2011. The report is an investigation into the coal investments of the world’s leading banks. We looked at the funding of 93 international banks in 71 coal companies between 2005 and 2011 to identify the “top 20 climate killer banks” in the world. The results show a significant overlap between Bloomberg’s “world’s greenest banks” and the top 20 climate killer banks. In fact, seven of Bloomberg’s top ten appear in the “Climate Killer” list.

Bloomberg’s “World’s Greenest Banks”
Name Bloomberg rating (2012) Climate Killer Banks rating (2011)
Citigroup 1 2
Santander 2 -
JP Morgan Chase 3 1
Mitsubishi UFJ Finance Group 4 17
Credit Suisse Group 5 9
Goldman Sachs 6 11
Deutsche Bank 7 6
Mizuho Financial Group 8 -
Lloyds Banking Group 9 -
Barclays 10 5


Citi, which tops Bloomberg’s list, was rated the number two climate killer bank, and JPMorgan, our number one climate killer bank, is Bloomberg’s number three. Citi’s investments in the coal industry grew by 40% between 2005 and 2010 as the bank poured more than €13 billion into the coal industry. Citi’s profile on the BankTrack website links the bank to the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, as well as mountaintop removal coal mining and the controversial Alpha Coal project in Australia, expected to directly and negatively impact the Great Barrier Reef. This makes the “Greenest Bank in the World” tag a little hard to swallow.

Environmental Direct-Impact, Back to Sustainability Pre-History

Another disturbing aspect of Bloomberg’s methodology is that “reductions in air emissions and water use and gains in energy efficiency” account for a full 30 percent of the score. These are banks’ “direct” impacts, e.g. their own use of energy for electricity and office heating. If this approach would have been understandable in the 1990s, it seems extremely dated in 2013, to say the least.

Numerous studies, particularly from NGOs including many from BankTrack members and partners in the past few years, have clearly demonstrated that banks’ primary environmental impacts are result from their core activities – their lending and investments – rather than through their “direct” impacts. While the sustainability debate in the banking sector started ten or twenty years ago with these direct impacts, the trend since then has been towards looking at the issues that matter: the impacts of banks’ finance. Methodologies for measuring these ‘financed emissions’ already exist, and BankTrack has long called on banks to report on these impacts systematically.

Management and reduction of direct impacts should be considered a ‘hygiene factor’ for banks, rather than a core issue. When Bloomberg reports that JPMorgan, which invested more than €16 billion in the coal industry between 2005 and 2011, “revamped its Park Avenue headquarters in New York, where energy-saving lights now dim automatically and a 54,000-gallon basement tank collects rain for flushing toilets and watering plants”, one has to wonder if it is looking down its telescope backwards.

Stop The Greenwashing

By avoiding mention of fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and by giving undue weight to banks’ direct impacts, Bloomberg’s “greenest banks” methodology is fundamentally, and it would seem deliberately, flawed. (BankTrack and partners Rainforest Action Network and urgewald already raised these concerns in a letter to Bloomberg last year).

The results of this study will now be used by the “world’s greenest banks” in their marketing and public relations material – a generous but undeserved gift to banks which are ploughing billions into environmentally destructive projects. This is a shame when there remain plenty of opportunities for Bloomberg, banks, analysts and other stakeholders to examine bank’s investments in fossil fuels, nuclear power, and their financed emissions. BankTrack will continue to denounce such greenwashing exercises in the coming months and years.

This post was originally published by Rainforest Action Network.


Photo: gsbrown99/flickr


Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

Bloomberg is not known for their veracity unless it involves profit.

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N4 years ago


What’s at Risk

If credit unions are required to pay federal and state income taxes, you - the member - would shoulder the burden of those new taxes. CUs would be forced to make up the difference by charging higher rates on loans, paying less on savings, and implementing new fees. The estimate is for every $1 of revenue raised, CU members could lose $100 of benefits.

Even non-members would suffer, because banks would face less competitive pressure from credit unions to keep prices and fees low. And despite all these negative consequences, the amount of tax revenue generated would not solve the nation’s fiscal challenges because credit unions are a small industry compared to very large for-profit banks.

Only 6% of deposits in America are held in CUs. Yet bankers will argue that CUs have an unfair advantage and should only be allowed serve "the little guy" (the customers they don't want). They will say that CUs have strayed from their original mission. They're wrong. And they're scared.

You can visit and click on Take Action to send an email straight to your legislator. If you can, be specific about how your Credit Union has helped you.

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N4 years ago


If you want to fight back against the Big Banks, take a minute to call, send an email, or tweet your representatives using the #DontTaxMyCU hashtag and ask them to keep the income tax exemption for CUs.

A Little History

Credit unions were formed in the 1930s by Congress as not-for-profit member-owned financial cooperatives. That's why they're exempt from federal and state income tax. That tax exemption comes with tight regulations. They are limited in the types of risks they can take, who qualifies as a member and even what percentage of assets they can lend to small businesses. While CUs don’t pay federal income taxes, they do pay local real estate and personal property taxes and all payroll-related taxes.

The Credit Union Difference

CUs offer many of the same financial services and products as a bank, however, they are different. Unlike a bank, CUs are not-for-profit and are owned by you—the member—instead of shareholders. While CUs need to make enough to stay in operation, their primary motivation isn’t profit—it’s helping you improve your financial well-being.

Because CUs are not beholding to stockholders or Wall Street, they can look beyond the bottom line and invest time and resources in financial products and services that are genuinely beneficial to members.

What’s at Risk

If credit unions are required to pay federal and state income taxes, you - the member - would shoulder the burden of those ne

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N4 years ago

We should be using credit unions, rather than banks, and more and more people do - and perhaps that's why in the US, the banks are now going after the credit unions.

Sun Jul 28, 2013
Don't let the bankers get away with this!

by 1864 House

f, like me, you are of the 96 million Americans who rely on a not-for-profit credit union for fairly priced financial services, it's not too late to make your voice heard. Finance Committee leaders are working on a proposal for a new U.S. tax code and Big Banks are asking them to pick the pockets of Credit Union members.

Banks pushing for repeal of credit unions' federal tax exemption

The Big Banks have armies of lobbyists loaded with cash and they are pressuring Congress to revoke the income tax exemption for not-for-profit Credit Unions. The Big Banks don't like the competition and they especially don't like the market pressure that forces them to rein in fees.

Credit Unions have their members, their voices, and their stories. It's time to use them.

If you're a Credit Union member, you know CUs are not-for-profit financial cooperatives, have volunteer boards of directors and operate under the seven Cooperative Principles.


If you want to fight back against the Big Banks, take a minute to call, send an email, or tweet your representatives using the #DontTaxMyCU hashtag and ask them to keep the income tax ex

janet T.
janet t4 years ago

Use credit unions not banks!!!

Monica D.
Monica D4 years ago

Thank you for this article, which I think makes some very good points about some very important issues. I would like Care2 to get more active on this.

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle4 years ago

Um, the statement is 'greenest banks'. Not green banks. Maybe their methodology is rotten but how many people think any bank is green?
I totally agree. Stop all of the greenwashing. It's sick and demented.
It's best to use small banks and credit unions. They might listen to you.

Magdika Cecilia Perez

thank you

Arild Warud

Banks only care about the bottom line.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.