The Commonwealth Bank recently offered the Conservation Council an unsolicited $500 donation under its Community Donation Program. While we appreciate the implicit recognition of the value of our work in protecting the Canberra region’s environment, we chose to politely decline the money.
Why would we do that when we rely on the generosity of the community for our existence?
Because the existence of our natural environment (and human civilisation) relies on a stable climate, whereas the Commonwealth Bank continues to finance companies and projects intent on expanding fossil fuel operations that drive global warming.
There are two issues here: one is the fossil fuel funding that conflicts with our values; the other is CommBank’s internal inconsistency between its operational policies and its espoused environmental and social governance policy.
CommBank professes to be “committed to improving the wellbeing of the communities in which we live and work”, yet funding fossil fuel projects is wholly inconsistent with this objective. The few hundred thousand dollars the Bank gives away to community groups cannot possibly offset the hundreds of millions of dollars it provides to climate-wrecking companies including Origin Energy, Beach Energy and Santos.
Accepting a donation from CommBank would have required us to display the CommBank logo, tantamount to endorsing their climate policies, in conflict with our core mission of shaping a sustainable future. Worse, it would have given CommBank the right to display the Conservation Council name and logo so that the Bank could claim it supports environmental conservation whilst it quietly carries on with funding environmentally damaging projects.
In our letter, we called on the Bank to address this fundamental contradiction in their own values by ending fossil fuel finance. A genuine corporate social responsibility program must be an extension of the company’s core values, otherwise it is simply a public relations exercise.
There’s a bit of this activism going around. Values-driven rejection of sponsorship has popped up recently in the Australian Diamonds netball team’s refusal to wear Hancock Prospecting’s logo (on grounds of racism) and the Australian men’s cricket captain refusing to appear in advertising for Alinta Energy (climate impacts). This sort of public statement is important in raising awareness of issues and removing social licence for damaging corporate behaviours. It can help force companies to review their policies and actions to avoid damage to their reputation.
How can you take similar action? Move your money out of bank accounts, superannuation funds and direct investments in companies whose policies are inconsistent with your personal values. Importantly, write to those financial providers or post on their social media to explain why. Find out more about financial actions at Market Forces.