Lucie’s Commonwealth divestment story

7 December 2013

Back in the autumn of 2013 I got interested in the idea of investment as a way to combat climate change and in August I decided to start my action with my bank: the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

I began by contacting CBA to outline my concerns and said that whilst any reduction in carbon is good (which CBA boast about on their website), it would be very counteractive to continue to be involved with things like the fossil fuel industry.

I received a reply from James Peacock, the Executive Manager for Environmental Sustainability. He stated that “the Bank recognises its role in addressing the challenge of climate change”, talked about their “environmental, social and governance considerations” and essentially used lots of big words (all of which I’d already read on the website, as I’d mentioned in my email) to avoid saying anything solid. I replied that lending over $1,500 million to the exports of coal and gas is a much bigger concern than recycling paper: it’s dangerous, irresponsible and unacceptable, both in environmental and financial terms. I said that because of that I would be removing my funds and that many people I know had made the same decision. I implored the bank to address this by making a commitment to stop any new funding and to begin withdrawing the money that is already in place.

“Banks by and large accept that climate change is an issue”

The response I received simply referred me to an SMH article (see it here where Steven Munchenberg, chief executive officer of the Australian Bankers Association, is quoted as saying, “banks by and large accept that climate change is an issue”.

By and large?! I told them that I was looking forward to hearing the official announcement that CBA would be ceasing to finance new fossil fuel projects with immediate effect, and to withdraw funds from existing projects over the following few years to be completely fossil free with 5 years, and that until then I wouldn’t be a CBA customer

I didn’t hear anything else from them.

So, on November 2nd I joined other CBA customers and Market Forces and publically moved my money out of CBA. I then emailed the Sustainability Team again to say that I had closed my account because of the lending practices to major fossil fuel projects. I pointed out that I had previously raised my concerns with the Bank but that the responses I received were unsatisfactory (I detailed my concerns and the responses I had received) and once again asked the Bank to make a commitment to stop new funding and withdraw existing loans over time.

Copy-paste job

The reply that I received was exceptionally similar to the first email James Peacock sent me back in August. I pointed out the inconsistencies (CBA ‘shares my concerns’ whilst lending millions to fossil fuels) and reiterated my desire to hear a strong commitment from CBA.

The reply I received this time was an exact copy-paste of the email linking me to the SMH article.

Does the Sustainability Team actually read its emails?! Do they care that customers are leaving? I haven’t seen a single ‘sorry to see you go’. I pointed out that their email was an obvious copy-paste job (including the grammatical error!) and asked how they can possibly be taking their customers seriously when they have one set of responses that they simply forward to each person who contacts them.

I haven’t heard back.