Bank of America pledged yesterday some $20 billion over the next 10 years to help save the world from the ravages of global warming, lending its voice to a growing chorus of corporations who see green in being green.
Unlike other initiatives, however, BofA outlined a slew of investments, donations and new products and services across all its business lines intended to help deliver on the cause philanthropically, in generating business for the bank while it works to become more energy efficient.
"We have the opportunity to do more than address our own internal business practices," says Anne Finucane, chief marketing officer in a statement. "As one of the world's leading financial institutions, we can and will work directly with individual and business customers to address the pressing issue of global climate change."
Over the next year, BofA will introduce new products for consumers which includes an eco-friendly credit card that, for every dollar spent, will be matched with a contribution to an environmental organization to be named. Existing cardholders will be able to donate points to organizations that work to reduce greenhouse gases or redeem them for eco-friendly merchandise. A reduced interest rate or $1,000 rebate will be given on a mortgage for a home that meets Energy Star standards.
In addition, the bank pledged $1.4 billion to ensure new office facilities, including its Charlotte, N.C., headquarters and New York towers, are eco-friendly. The BofA Charitable Foundation will donate $50 million to support non-profit organizations dedicated to forest preservation, energy conservation and other environmentally progressive causes while another $100 million was earmarked to make all of its retail banking offices more energy efficient.
Carol Cone, who has worked on cause-related marketing initiatives for much of the last 27 years as the founder and principal of Cone Inc., lauded BofA's detailed plan to tie corporate responsibility to the development of eco-friendly products and services that "at the end of the day help define what BofA stands for" as "a powerful differentiator," particularly among financial services companies. (Cone, whose eponymous public relations agency in Boston is owned by Omnicom, does not work for BofA, she points out.)
"This becomes part of their brand DNA, their ethos, if you will -- it is both proactive and reactive and covers a spectrum of engagement that for a financial services company is hugely differentiating," Cone says.
BofA is hardly the first corporation to "go green," however.
Giant retailer Wal-Mart adopted eco-friendly policies as long ago as 1989. Like BofA's many initiatives, Wal-Mart has found that what's good for the environment also is good for business. A decision to retrofit some 800 stores with energy-efficient light bulbs saved money on electricity and helped reduce CO² emissions. GE is attempting to transform its image from villain to ally with its current "Ecomagination" marketing campaign. Car companies are trying to meet consumer demand for hybrid vehicles and former vice president and presidential contender Al Gore just snagged an Oscar for a documentary that makes the case for the existence of global warming.
"This represents a dramatic approach to the environment that is not only philanthropic but is in the spirit of making money," says Yale University Professor Daniel Esty, who co-wrote the book, Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage. Esty told the San Jose Mercury News he's been pleased to see more companies announce environmental initiatives in the past six months as they try to tap into a lucrative market.
Some companies make commitments to helping the environment that are more noise than substance, Esty noted, but BofA's pledge will be impressive if in 10 years it can point to buildings or products it has helped finance that save energy or are better for the environment.