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Apr 19, 2024

From Personal Finance Nerd to Climate Finance Advocate

April is a big month for us here at Atmos. Not only is it Earth Month – a time to celebrate our environmental impact – but also Financial Literacy Month! At Atmos, we know that mastering your finances isn’t always easy. But choosing a climate positive banking solution can be.

To read the first installment in our lending solution manager, Arielle Terry’s, journey from personal finance beginner to climate finance advocate visit our blog

In early 2022, I read a book on finance and activism called Wallet Activsim by Tanja Hester that really made me think about what was important to me and question what I was passionate about. I had been interested in climate change since elementary school but as I got older, I gave up on it. I didn’t think my individual choices mattered. But as I read this book, I began to explore climate action by way of spending. I could be an activist! Being debt free allowed me to practice value based spending.

A few months after reading Wallet Activism, I listened to an episode of the Invested in Climate podcast that featured our co-founder, Ravi Mikkelsen. The podcast episode was eye-opening to say the least. I did not realize that where I kept my money mattered. I knew that the money in my bank account was being lent out by the bank but what I didn’t know was that the banking industry was actively financing the destruction of our planet. In the last 7 years alone, big banks have financed $5.5 trillion to the fossil fuel industry. I learned that money is one of the most effective ways to fight climate change. Divesting money from fossil fuels and putting money into climate solutions is necessary to save the planet. I opened a bank account at Atmos in July 2022 and quickly moved all of my cash savings over. I love that my Atmos account allows me to see my personal impact and my daily emission reduction.

My climate journey started with education and individual actions. I educated myself about climate change through books, podcasts, and courses. I took four climate courses and read 16 books on climate in 2023. Some of the climate action I took involved divesting from fossil fuels in my bank account and retirement funds, supporting climate nonprofits, volunteering for ClimateVoice, reducing the amount of junk mail that I received by signing up for OptOutPrescreen, and making eco-friendly switches like using bamboo toilet paper & making Ecosia my default web browser. 

After I learned that Chase Bank was the biggest funder of fossil fuels, I cut up and closed the two credit cards that I had with the bank. I won’t lie, I did strongly consider keeping the cards open and not using them because I knew that closing the cards would lower my credit score. One of the cards had been open for 10 years and had a large credit limit of $20,000. Then I thought about it and said who cares about a credit score. Is my credit score more important than the planet? I decided that I needed to be a woman of action and show these banks that I mean business. I refuse to do business with companies that ignore climate change and that are actively funding the destruction of our planet.

After taking climate action through my personal financial choices and lifestyle choices, I decided to bring climate activism into the workplace and be an internal advocate for change. I started by simply asking a question. I reached out to the benefits manager and asked if our 401(k) provider could add a fossil-free option to the company line-up. I learned about a climate friendly 401(k) fund, SPFFX through an interview with Sphere CEO Alex Wright Gladstein on Invested in Climate.

SPFFX is a climate friendly investment option that tracks the Top 500 US companies and excludes fossil fuel companies. I liked that the fund could easily be added to our existing 401 (k) without switching providers because I thought that would make it easier for the company to implement. 

A great resource that I learned about on the podcast was fossilfreefunds.org. This website allows you to search investment funds and view fossil fuel holdings. I used this site to look up the existing funds that were available to me in my company’s 401 (k) plan. All of the available funds were invested in fossil fuels, deforestation, firearms, military weapons, private prisons, and tobacco.

The benefits manager let me know that SPFFX wasn’t currently offered in our plan, but it could be! She was waiting for further direction from our brokers and would keep me updated.

After a month passed with no updates, I decided to follow up. She was still working on it. 7 weeks of silence passed so I reached out to the benefits manager again but this time she did not respond – so I decided to try a different tactic.

As my favorite rapper, Drake said in the song “God’s Plan”, “I can’t do this on my own”. I wasn’t getting anywhere on my own, so I decided to mobilize a few of my fellow co-workers to start a climate employee resource group.

It all started with a channel in Slack. We recruited members by posting helpful climate tips in the company newsletter. It was exciting to be around like minded people who truly cared about the environment!

After being ignored for months, I adopted a public strategy by raising the issue in a company town hall slack channel. I was nervous to ask the question in front of the whole company. I wasn’t sure if other people would care but I figured I had nothing to lose by asking, the worst that could happen is they would tell me “no”. And I’ve heard the word “no” many times in my life.

In the town hall I asked “ Can our company add a climate-friendly and in particular fossil fuel-free option to our 401(k) lineup? I would like to see a low-cost climate-friendly investment option so that  employees can choose to avoid the outsized risk and volatility associated with the fossil fuel sector.”

I was stunned by the reaction that my question received. My question had the most responses out of all of the questions that were asked in the channel! It was the first question that was answered at the town hall. After a little back and forth, our CFO agreed to reach out to our broker and have the fund added. SPFFX was officially added to the 401(k) lineup on March 15, 2023.

After I had done everything I could at my previous company, I was ready to commit my career to climate. My two main goals in 2023 were to have SPFFX added to the 401 (k) line up and to work fulltime in climate. In April 2023, I started working at Atmos as a solar loan underwriter. I have learned so much about the solar industry and the renewable energy space during my year at Atmos. Working in climate has only made me more driven and focused on reaching more people. Now, as a climate finance advocate, I am driven to talk to others about the importance of climate-conscious banking.

Want to learn more about how Arielle got started on her climate finance advocacy journey? You can read about how she first gained interest in her own finances, and how this interest ultimately led to working in climate, here. Stay tuned, she'll be sharing more soon!

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