Building society savings accounts
For all the harms that banks can be involved in, thankfully there are more ethical options for your savings.
Member-owned building societies and credit unions are not focused on corporate shareholders and can be a great alternative to high-street banks like Barclays, Santander, HSBC, NatWest and Lloyds. You automatically become a member when you open a savings account with a building society or credit union.
Although there was some variation, building societies generally scored pretty highly in our table, with Ecology Building Society and Yorkshire / Chelsea Building Society scoring the best.
There are currently 43 building societies and 7 credit unions listed as members of the Building Societies Association, ranging in size from relatively small, e.g. Ecology Building Society, to very large, e.g. Nationwide, Skipton.
For some people, part of the appeal of a building society might include the fact that they aren’t all headquartered in London. Some operate nationally and others locally, so it’s worth checking what your local building society offers, as we couldn't include all of them in the guide.
As well as operational structure, for a savings account to be ethical it is important for it not to contribute to social and environmental harm. Some companies also actively finance positive social projects. Charity Bank, Ecology Building Society, Triodos and The Cooperative Bank all scored at the top of our table and had positive lending policies.
Ethical or Green savings accounts
As its name suggests, Ecology Building Society is unique in the fact that it states that it’s “dedicated to improving the environment by supporting and promoting ecological building practices and sustainable communities”. It does not lend to projects involved in the fossil fuel and arms manufacturing industries.
Triodos publishes details on every institution it lends to in its industry-leading ethical policy of transparency. If you choose to open a savings account with them, its website says, “While you earn interest on your savings, we use your money to finance projects that make a positive and lasting impact on society, culture or the environment.”
The Cooperative Bank are generally known as being an ethical high-street bank and it prides itself on having a customer-led ethical policy. It is kept accountable by a Customer Union for Ethical Banking, which has links to Ethical Consumer. It doesn’t finance fossil fuels or other environmentally damaging projects, and has a commitment not to lend to organisations abusing human rights, manufacturing weapons or promoting hate.
When it comes to environmental claims, a Which? survey from 2021 found that, “69% [of respondents] said they would not know how to find information about a bank’s green credentials, making it difficult to compare providers”.
Triodos, Ecology Building Society and Charity Bank all received a Best rating in our environmental reporting and climate change categories, meaning they had been clear and transparent in what their environmental impacts are and what actions they are taking to manage this.