The Ecology Center Moves Our Money

The Ecology Center is an organization that walks its talk. Yet for many years, we relied on the big banks for our financial infrastructure, believing that they provided the greatest security. But then, a few years ago, the stock market crashed and the financial industry went into a tailspin. The big banks were bailed out, and the industry’s ugliest practices were revealed. The Ecology Center Board of Directors tasked our finance team to move our money to where it was most aligned with our organizational values and where it is truly secure – into the community.

Following the financial sector meltdown, the Occupy movement gained steam, and the affiliated Move Your Money Project and Bank Transfer Day spurred individuals to withdraw millions from the big banks and transfer their money to small, local banks and credit unions. The Ecology Center co-sponsored a Slow Money Conference in San Francisco and participated to learn more about burgeoning alternative financial systems.

Clearly, it was time for a change, and the changes that we initiated touched every financial aspect of our business, from our 401K plans, to the lenders we pay for loans for recycling trucks, to where we park our operating reserves, to what company we chose for our credit card processing. We wanted to put our money where it benefits the environment and people, not big banks and polluting industries. Today, we can say with confidence that every dollar our supporters donate to the Ecology Center produces multiple ripple effects towards a sustainable and just future.

Kate Campbell of North Berkeley Investment Services – a long-time Ecology Center supporter – offered us terrific pro bono advice and guidance, for which we are deeply grateful. She spent hours with our Executive Director and Deputy Director and Treasurer, helping us to identify the types of investments and financial institutions that aligned with our mission, risk tolerances, and business needs.

For financial stability, the Ecology Center’s board policy is to maintain a 4-month reserve of operating funds to tide us through an emergency. With Kate Campbell’s help, we placed our reserves in a diverse set of institutions and investments to serve our needs while serving our mission. They include:

Investing in these funds makes our reserves available to others who need loans to expand their work and build the future we all want. For example, our Calvert Investment Note allows us to invest in great local organizations such as Life Long Medical and their new expansion; Rubicon Programs, Inc. which supports recovery and economic independence for some of the Bay Area’s most challenged residents; Bridge Housing, which provides affordable housing to low-income families and seniors; and Evergreen Lodge, which trains young urban “at-risk” youth in the hospitality industry by running a resort lodge near Yosemite National Park.

We opened an operational business CD at Self Help Credit Union, which has a great record of providing non-predatory mortgages to female, low-income, low-wealth, rural and minority communities across the US. Community Bank of the Bay was the institution that made the creation of the Berkeley EcoHouse possible: they gave a loan that funded the initial green remodel and revived the house from a condemned eyesore into a thriving community education resource.

Our CD at New Resource Bank is like a slow money investment pool. New Resource is a Certified B Corporation and Green Business with LEED gold headquarters in San Francisco. It is financing business needs at Veritable Vegetable, Hog Island Oyster Company, Cowgirl Creamery, City Car Share, and Dharma Merchant Services who process our credit card sales.

Recently, the Ecology Center needed to take out a large loan to purchase new trucks for our recycling fleet. For that, we too, turned to New Resource Bank. Their loan process was impressive, including an extensive environmental assessment along with solid financial due diligence. It was important to us that our lender build toward a sustainable future, not just build shareholder wealth and executive excess. Their loan process made us feel both well served as a borrower and protected as an investor. They prove that you can be competitive in a business market place and still seriously support a bright and sustainable future.

For our 401K plan, employees were given a new range of options, including SRI portfolios. Socially responsible investing (SRI), also known as sustainable, socially conscious, “green” or ethical investing, considers both financial return and social good. Socially responsible investors encourage corporate practices that promote environmental stewardship, consumer protection, human rights, and diversity. Each SRI fund uses a different screen to decide what kinds of companies or industries to include or exclude. The staff found the website socialfunds.com informative during the process of deciding how to invest for both our planet’s future and their own individual financial future.

The Ecology Center accepts credit cards at our Store and Farmers’ Markets. As part of our financial transition, we switched to Dharma Merchant Services, a certified Green Business and B Corporation based in San Francisco that offers competitive, full-disclosure pricing. Dharma offers superb customer service and is run by people who care about the same things that we do.

The last two years have been a learning process for us. We all feel so great about these changes! We are working so hard every day to build and inspire healthy, sustainable communities; it only makes sense for us to divest from the systems that threaten those goals and to invest in institutions that support them. We want to encourage you to look into these possibilities yourself and spread the word.

If you share our financial values and would like to support the long-term health of the Ecology Center through a stock donation, trust, or by adding us as a beneficiary to an insurance policy or other financial instrument, please contact our Development Director gwen@ecologycenter.org.
[Photo by Sasha Y. Kimel]


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2 thoughts on “The Ecology Center Moves Our Money

  1. Pingback: Transition Berkeley Presents: Money, Banking and Investing for Transition, Tuesday, 12/11/12 « Ecology Center

  2. Great article! And love the details!
    Glad to know the Ecology Center moved part of its money the same way I did a few years ago: Self-Help (used to be “People’s Credit Union” in Oakland).
    Moving your money out off big bangs is the most important thing to do these days I think.

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