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19 Dec 2005

CIS Sustainable Leaders Trust – corporate greenwash where you least expect it.

LeafletI have a bank account with the Co-operative Bank, as they have made the most efforts towards being an ethical bank that offers everday services, so far as I can tell. The other day in received a mail shot from them, containing a leaflet from CIS, which is their investment and insurance branch, entitled **”Go for growth, with a clear conscience’**. The leaflet promoted their Unit Trusts, which featured four companies that CIS believe represent ‘sustainability in action’. These are GlaxoSmithKline, Vodaphone, National Express and Amazon. I was incredulous … National Express maybe, promoting public transport and so on, but the rest of them?

GlaxoSmithKline is accused by animal rights groups of being one of the biggest customers to the Huntingdon Life Sciences animal testing laboratory. According to Wikipedia, in November 2005, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation accused the company of boasting its short-term monopoly profit by not increasing production of the anti-AIDS drug AZT despite a surge in demand, hence creating a shortage that affected many AIDS patients in Africa. They have also run into trouble for paying directors phenomenal bonuses. Sustainability in action? Come on… . This is a huge petrochemical based multinational drug company!

CISI emailed CIS six weeks ago, drawing their attention to the absurdity of their giving these companies the credibility of their support. My letter went like this…

>”As a Cooperative Bank customer of some years standing, I recently received a leaflet for CIS Sustainable Leaders Trust. It promoted 4 companies believed to demonstrate ‘sustainability in action’. While actually all four of them I felt to be highly debateable from a sustainability perspective, and without getting into the argument as to whether animal testing actually is OK if used in medical research, it was Amazon I wanted to particularly challenge and register my complaint about.

>In what way is Amazon a sustainable company? They have taken the “stack’em high” model of retail to the extreme. They are the embodiment of the huge company which defeats its competition by its sheer size. Your three given reasons, their continual reduction of prices (easy to do as a market leader, quite simply hardnosed business practice, rather than in any sense a dedication to sustainability), their personalised service encouraging customer feedback (again, simply good business practice and not related in any way to sustainability), and a strict privacy policy (ditto). Does Amazon have an environmental code of practice? How has it dedicated itself to reducing the carbon emissions from its business? Does it, as probably the UKs largest bookseller, put any pressure on publishers to move towards producing CO2 neutral books? What levels of energy efficiency does it promote in its buildings and among its staff? Does it contribute any of its profits to making the world a healthier place?

>Amazon is a slick, efficient and enticing company, who have created a very effective and user friendly approach to buying books and other things too. Their level of service is very good, and they have a good range of products. However, they are also responsible for the rapid decline in small bookshops, leaving a hole in many high streets. They will out price most other sellers of music and books, putting small traders out of business. They are not a sustainable company by any stretch of the imagination. I would deeply question CIS giving them the kudos of being hailed as ‘sustainability in action’, and indeed the fact that your criteria for handing out this title seem so woefully inadequate would make me very unlikely to partake of what otherwise looks like an excellent service. I imagine I will look to the Triodos Bank, whose criteria as to what constitutes a sustainable business is far more exacting, and who actively support organic farming, community development and energy efficiency projects, rather than purely taking business success as a benchmark for sustainability”.

>Yours, Rob Hopkins

I have yet to recieve a reply. In the event that I receive one I’ll let you know…

Categories: Economics

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


29 Jan 10:50pm


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4 May 11:30am

Currently i bank with the Co-op and have seen the selection of ethical investments they have on offer. These
Co-op Investments suit a wide range people, even with specific beliefs.

4 May 11:31am

This is great news, finaly it seems that ethical investments are shedding the reputation the have for being unprofitable.

Currently i bank with the Co-op and have seen the selection of ethical investments they have on offer. These
Co-op Investments suit a wide range people, even with specific beliefs.

3 Nov 2:57pm

I have had a co-op rep to advise and I was really surprised that this Ethical Leader fund has Glaxo’s and BP in it, so I have decided to buy shares in companies that I decide are in my ethical ideology. I can not see how this fund has this title!!!

Sarah of the newly created Transition Hull.

Steve Atkins
4 Nov 4:17pm

Blimey, interesting to read this, and following the recent Co-Op TV adverts I had plans to move from Natwest.

Are there any other banks worth considering?

Graham Burnett
5 Nov 9:08am

Triodos seem to be the best

Jason Cole
5 Nov 10:32pm

Erm, note the issue is with CIS, not with the co-op bank.