Two American banks announced plans yesterday to become carbon neutral and power their branches and offices entirely with renewable energy in the next few years.

Bank of America Corp. said it would reach that goal by 2020, while Amalgamated Bank, a New York company that calls itself the nation’s “leading progressive bank,” said it would achieve that target in 2017.

The banks made their pledges on renewable energy as part of a campaign called RE100, an effort organized by environmental advocacy groups to get leading companies to commit to shrinking their carbon footprints.

“We need to be honest, we have a growing environmental crisis unfolding and Amalgamated Bank will no longer sit on the sideline,” Keith Mestrich, president and CEO of the bank, said in a statement.

Amalgamated Bank created a “sustainability banking” division this year, it said in a statement.

A Bank of America spokeswoman said the company has spent $53 billion on climate change financing since 2007. And Bank of America was also the largest underwriter of green bonds—debt issued to address environmental projects—for the past two years, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (ClimateWire, April 8).

“The expansion of our operational goals to 2020, achieving carbon neutrality and the purchase of 100-percent renewable energy build on our existing environmental commitment and responsible growth strategy,” Bank of America Vice Chairwoman Anne Finucane said in a statement.

Bank of America and Amalgamated said their pledges related only to their own operations, not to their clients.

Both banks made their announcements on the first day of Climate Week, a summit in New York City of business and government officials. The announcements reflect a continuing trend of lenders and Wall Street institutions stepping away from fossil fuel projects, in particular coal and cost-intensive oil projects, such as offshore and Arctic drilling.

In recent years, top U.S. and European banks, including Barclays PLC and BNP Paribas SA, have slashed financing for the coal industry and adopted new lending policies.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in March that it would not finance new coal-mining projects. And Citigroup Inc. announced in October that it would draw down loans for companies that engage in mountaintop-removal mining—a process in which workers detonate rocks and soil to access coal trapped below, often leaving toxic runoff in bodies of water nearby.

While environmental advocacy organizations have taken credit for prompting these changes at some of the world’s top banks, the shift coincides with crashing commodity prices in oil, coal and natural gas markets worldwide.

In their statements yesterday, neither bank directly addressed its lending policies.

Amalgamated, a left-leaning bank with roots in the labor movement that manages more than $40 billion in assets under management, said it would adopt new policies about lowering its exposure to the fossil fuel industry in its own investments and its loans.

Amalgamated did not provide a timeline.

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a climate advocacy group, said yesterday that Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of the West, through its parent company, BNP Paribas, are each sponsors of this week’s Climate Week conference but still finance billions of dollars’ worth of fossil fuel projects.

To meet the objectives of the Paris climate accord, the three banks must no longer finance “extreme fossil fuels, which are simply incompatible with a climate-stable world,” said Amanda Starbuck of RAN.

She said the sponsorship “amounts to little more than greenwashing.”

According to a RAN report published in June, 25 banks, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and BNP Paribas, have invested $784 billion in coal mining, coal power, “extreme oil” and liquefied natural gas facilities between 2013 and 2015 (ClimateWire, June 15).

JPMorgan Chase and BNP Paribas did not respond to requests for comment. Bank of America declined to comment.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at Click here for the original story.