This article might seem to only have relevance in April, but it’s of year-round importance. Here’s why.

In 1st grade, I made a science fair project titled, “How to Save the Earth”. Suggestions included recycling, saving energy, protecting endangered species, and planting trees. Captain Planet brought it all together on the main board. Because only with all our powers combined could he (read: “we”) make a difference.

To say I have an environmental mindset would be one, highly underrated, way of describing it. Was I that kid who turned off lights the moment someone else walked out of the room? Of course not; I did it while they were still inside. Use your night vision! Was all our recycling hand-sorted? You bet. Did I participate in beach clean-ups? Obviously.

Even the degree and business paths I chose found alignment with environmental roots. Travel always has an Earth-focus. I definitely don’t compete with a friend on our National Park count. Spoiler: She’s winning.

We’re All Connected

Joe Winn on Galapagos Shoreline
On the shoreline of a Galapagos island.

In college, I visited the Galapagos and archipelagos of Belize to learn about the environmental and human challenges straight from the locals. Beautiful places, beautiful people, and a delicate relationship often tipped out of balance through forces outside the individual’s control.

It was in these places I first recognized the connection between environmental efforts and human welfare. My degree, Marine Affairs and Policy, further built the structure, helping me understand that you can’t have equitable policies or economies without environmental consideration. And it goes both ways.

Negative Externalities

Queen Angelfish
Queen Angelfish, Belize

We often forget this point because our society and economy take advantage of what are called “negative externalities”. Imagine having a spare ledger to write off all your losses that you don’t need to show the examiner. In this situation, that ledger is our planet, and the write-offs are deforestation, pollution, oil extraction, industrial farming, and more.

And it’s not just the planet where we can toss our negative externalities. For generations, people of color and other marginalized groups have borne this load.

You can see this in minorities being forced to live in the most polluted areas of town (ie. where the wind predominantly blows from an industrial area, aka, “the wrong side of the tracks”). Workers in dirty industries suffer higher rates of cancer, then have to fight to get health and living assistance, if any. These challenges compound generationally.

It also appears when developed nations ship hazardous waste to developing countries, leaving their people to sift through it, searching for anything to sell. Of course, this not only pollutes their land, but also leads to widespread health issues. Not to mention, it’s no way to jumpstart an economy, or empower the populace.

Yet the countries and companies taking these actions don’t have to write those “losses” in their ledger. The GDP continues to grow. Companies report record profits. Those of us unaffected can continue our daily lives. But are we actually unaffected?

Pursuing People, Planet, & Prosperity

GreenProfit Community
Our original company online education space, circa 2009

Earth is a (mostly) closed system. At some point, what we do in one place will affect what happens elsewhere. With that realization, as I was completing my Master’s degree, I started a business focused on the Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, Prosperity. Its name? GreenProfit Solutions.

Our founding mission statement aimed to, “place environmental sustainability, fair and decent treatment of all peoples, and the commitment to being a productive member of their community at the heart of the company’s operations.”

Further, we acknowledged that, “there cannot be any true planetary sustainability without the corresponding support for those organizations assisting the poor, needy, sick, or abused within society.”

While what we do has evolved, what we believe has not.

You may not consider your credit union an environmental cooperative. Look closer. Your mission drives efforts to grow financial empowerment, overcome and eliminate inequities in banking, and improve the economy and health of the community you serve.

People? Check.

Prosperity? Check.

Planet? Well…remember what I said earlier, that you can’t have 2 without the other?

Building Trust Through Credit Union Values

Joe Winn Biking in Everglades
Safe paths for cyclists is part of this, too.

Standing up for your members means standing up for the planet. Sure, get excited about reusable K Cups, electronics recycling, and switching to LED lights. Small changes are great. Just realize that big problems need big solutions.

Bike to work programs couple with demanding safer streets for pedestrians. Energy-saving strategies come with an appeal to your state government to better support renewable energy installations. 

Actions speak loudest. And your leagues are a great place to start. If you see them endorsing or supporting candidates who don’t recognize the Triple Bottom Line, make your voice heard. Remember, they speak for you. What do you want your members to see? A credit union which puts their actions where their values are.

We know trust is a huge factor in choosing where you bank. Drive that through your policies, practices, and influence. Then show how your members can get involved. It’s their planet, too.

Our credit union clients may know us for the services we provide, but I feel it’s imperative we convey who we are just as strongly. Like us, you can do that in many little ways. It adds up to a consistent message.

For example, our monthly performance reports always include a section about a timely nonprofit or observance partners can learn more about.

I present topics which are “off the beaten path”, so the most ah ha moments can occur. Like understocked classrooms. Discover how First Book provides supplies to underserved children and school districts. We featured them in March to recognize National Read Across America.

Environmental Issues are Social Issues are Financial Issues

Lake in Cascades
“Somewhere high up on a mountain top, Or down by the deep blue sea” – Jimmy Buffett

As credit unions grapple with DEI and financial empowerment, we need to recognize that “climate justice” is often inextricably connected. Show me a social issue, and I’ll point to the environmental factor hidden in the shadows.

I work with credit unions because I believe they can be part of a force for good, advancing the Triple Bottom Line. We’re not there yet. However, we have examples to look towards. Vancity, a large Canadian credit union, puts the Triple Bottom Line at the literal core of their practices.

If you take nothing else from this piece, remember one essential point: Earth Month is about more than our planet. It’s about creating a better world for everything living on this Pale Blue Dot.

And won’t you help me achieve the goal of my 1st grade science project?