Tag: conscious banking

What Holds our Interest Defines our World

Who is Capturing Your Interest?

The word interest is …interesting. There are two definitions:

  1. State of wanting to know or learn about something or someone.
    ?He looked around with interest?
  2. Money paid regularly at a particular rate for the use of money lent, or for delaying the repayment of a debt. “He’s paying 17% interest on his loan.”

If you really think about it, these definitions are more connected that they seem. Why? Because the way we use our money is an expression of who we are.? It is true that what we appreciate, appreciates. Spending time with our kids, putting in the hours to grow a business or volunteering at our favorite charity amplifies all of those aspects of our lives.? And guess what? The interest we give to banks has similar power.

How Banks Use Your Interest

When you place your money in a bank account, it doesn?t just sit there. The bank uses your money by lending it out to others. They make money from lending out YOUR money. And you may not always like where they put it. Some banks invest in things like private prisons and fossil fuels, or engage in shady business practices that hurt customers or communities. ?By the way, the same goes for the interest you pay on your loans.

So… How Much Money are we Talking About?

How big is the impact of your financial interest on the world? In 2017:

  • Global companies borrowed more than?$3.74 trillion dollars?to expand their businesses. Where do banks get the money they lend out to companies? You guessed it: from your deposits.
  • U.S. household debt reached $13 trillion dollars. The banks make money from the interest you pay on your loans, mortgage and credit cards. The average U.S. household paid almost $1,000 of interest just on their credit card balances.

Use Your Money To Express Your Deepest Self

Think about where you put your interest. Money has power. It is a mirror of who you are. It is an instrument that can help you evolve your own view of the world.?When you align your financial life with what you stand for, you will feel truly prosperous.

Start Small for Big Impact

This doesn’t need to be a huge overhaul. You can take small steps toward lining up your existing money (cash, loans, credit cards and investments) with institutions that share your evolving worldview.

No matter how much money you have, you have power to express your deepest self by the way that your money moves in the world.?Take your first step.?Check out these resources:

Wanna Change the World? Change Your Bank

Green Banking: We Found an Amazing Checking Account

4 Ways to make Real Money with Sustainable Investing

Divorce Your Bank in 8 Simple Steps

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Why This Solar Company Founder is Starting a Credit Union

Blake Jones, co-founder of Namaste Solar and Clean Energy Credit Union, was growing frustrated with the poor financing choices available to his customers. Turns out you can get better financing for a t.v. or couch than you can for solar panels. So he set out to do something about it. Jones and his team are launching the Clean Energy Credit Union. Their goal: to offer the lowest interest rates to consumers looking to purchase renewable energy products and services.

A Gradual Epiphany: From Oil & Gas to Clean Energy

How did Blake Jones, a visionary leader in the renewable energy movement, go from working in oil and gas, to launching an employee-owned cooperative solar installation company, a solar purchasing cooperative, an impact investing fund, and now the Clean Energy Credit Union?

Blake Jones, Boulder, CO

?It was a slow awakening?, says Jones. ?I was working in the oil and gas industry right out of college when I went to work for a subsidiary of Halliburton. I was in love with the oil and gas industry. It sounds strange to admit that. I had read a book called The Prize, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Daniel Yurgin, about the history of oil.

I thought oil was the neatest thing and made the world go round. I was ambitious, wanted to make a lot of money, and wanted to work abroad. And I got all of those things.

But fortunately I had an older brother who is passionate about renewable energy. He helped me open my eyes to some of the disadvantages of our over-dependence on fossil fuels and what it does to our planet.?

 

Over time, Jones shifted his passion for oil and gas towards renewable energy. He went to work in Nepal for 3 years, installing solar systems in remote villages along the foothills of the Himalayas. ?And I loved it?, says Jones.

It was here that he learned about renewable energy technology and small business management.?After the Renewable Energy Standard passed in Colorado in 2004, Jones came back to co-found Namaste Solar.

Namaste Solar: Employees Are Owners and Decision Makers

Namaste Solar?s employee-owned cooperative model is their secret sauce and the reason they?ve seen a 50% compound annual growth rate over their 13-year history, while other solar companies have struggled.

??we were all on the same page about the different kind company we wanted to start. We thought, if we?re going to do this, we?re not going to start a conventional company. ? Everyone at Namaste Solar thinks and acts like an owner.?

Jones and his team started Namaste Solar as a 100% employee owned, democratic workplace. In the early years of the company, everyone made the same salary, including the CEO. Today, there?s a 6-to-1 cap on highest-to-lowest total pay. Every employee gets an equal vote in important decisions, like who to elect to the board. Their one-person-one-vote model makes employees feel like true contributors.

?We are completely transparent. Every bit of company information is shared, including pay ? which stands to this day. And we donate 10% of our profit each year to the community.?

According to Jones, their secret sauce of employee ownership, democratic workplace, and extreme transparency has attracted many people who are passionate about both solar and proving there?s a better way to do business than the conventional norm.

Namaste Solar is now known as prime example and champion of the B Corporation movement, the idea that the power of business can be used to solve social and environmental problems.

The Dark Side of Solar

Namaste Solar is now 13 years old, employs 175 people and brings in $50 million in revenue per year. ?

But it hasn?t been easy. They have done very well in an industry that has seen a lot of shake-out. While the solar industry has been super-hot, the market is so competitive that many solar companies have gone bankrupt.

?There?s a dark side to solar?, says Jones. ?It turns out that most of our competitors are not profitable. But they can raise a lot of money on Wall Street because their top line is growing so quickly. The focus for these companies is on land grabbing market share.? ?

This makes for strange competitive dynamics since Namaste Solar is going up against companies that are solely focused on expanding total sales through aggressive marketing by using money raised from Venture Capitalists, rather than trying to run a profitable business.

Finding Investment to Fund Sustainable Growth

Yet, it turns out there is a path to raising capital for growth from people who believe in sustainable growth.

In the beginning, Namaste Solar was 100% employee owned.

?Being na?ve first-time entrepreneurs, we thought that if we took external capital we?d lose control. We were getting a call every 2 weeks from Venture Capital or Private Equity firms, offering lots of money but it had strings attached. They wanted us to grow quickly and provide a liquidity event in the next 5 years.?

Because they sought to keep control of the company with their employees, they made it a core value that they will never have external investors. ?In hindsight, that was a little misguided or misinformed?, says Jones.

They started meeting other like-minded companies, some of them through the Certified B Corporation community and the National Center for Employee Ownership. They met large and successful cooperatives like Organic Valley and Equal Exchange and learned that they could raise capital without losing control. ?These cooperatives had issued a class of non-voting preferred stock, which means that external shareholders would not be able to change the company?s philosophy or direction.

?When we saw that model we thought, why didn?t we think of that??

Namaste Solar can how raise capital via a class of stock that doesn?t have voting rights and allows them to keep their cooperative model and governance structure intact. Seeing that cooperatives could successfully find mission-aligned investors showed Jones that it could be done. ?

Beyond Solar: Creating Momentum for Impact

One of the most interesting things about the interview was how this community of social entrepreneurs helps each other out, even when they compete.

Since founding Namaste Solar, Jones launched an impact fund that invests in private companies that provide social or environmental impact. He also co-founded Amicus Solar Cooperative, the first purchasing cooperative in the U.S. for the solar industry. The purchasing co-op is jointly owned and managed by its 48 member-companies.

And now, with the launch of Clean Energy Credit Union, any individual or contractor selling renewable energy products (from any renewable energy provider) will be able to access the lowest rates in the market.

Jones and his team have proven over and over that their sustainable and democratic approach to product, services and capital raising can and does work.

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