Bank of America's $50B green initiative:  Mighty or misplaced?

Bank of America recently announced a 10-year goal to put $50 billion towards renewable energy projects, energy efficiency and alternative transportation – a move the bank says will help grow the economy and its own business as well. But critics say the bank could make a greater impact by cutting off the billions it invests in coal each year.

Scheduled to become effective on Jan. 1, 2013, the initiative will be implemented through lending, equipment financing, capital market activities, carbon finance and investment solutions – services which the bank says are needed by its customers.

“Many of our clients are transitioning to more environmentally conscious business practices, products and services,” said Cathy Bessant, Global Technology and Operations executive and chair of Bank of America’s Environmental Council. “We can continue to grow our business, promote a greener global economy and address climate change by helping our clients meet their own sustainability objectives.” 

But vocal critic Rainforest Action Network says that though the initiative is a step in the right direction, the bank’s approach is missing the point.

"The bottom line is we cannot reduce the emissions necessary to stem climate change with renewable energy funding alone,” RAN's director of energy and finance Amanda Starbuck said in a statement. 

According to the organization, Bank of America has provided $6.4 billion towards coal in 2010 and 2011 -- more than any other US bank. RAN would like to see Bank of America cut off its coal underwriting activities entirely.

“We must also curb our use of coal, and Bank of America's new environmental initiative makes no move to do that," Starbuck said.

Photo of SolarStrong project located at Hickam Communities military housing, Joint Base Pearl Harbor in Hawaii provided via Lend Lease

Next page: Bank of America responds