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Mark Gile, co-owner of In Harmony, a $4 million sustainable landscaping company in Bothell, Washington, doesn't limit his environmentally friendly practices to the services he provides to clients.
It's a core value that runs through his entire business. So when he went in search of a $1.5 million loan, ShoreBank Pacific, which specializes in financial, environmental and social returns, was first on his list. "We like to deal with like-minded individuals," says Gile, 46. Plus, he felt his chances of getting a loan were higher due to his environmentally responsible profile. The decision paid off: Gile got the loan and used it to give his business an infusion of capital and pay off other loans.
Lenders that share your business's passion for sustainability can be valuable allies in your quest to save the planet while building an economically viable company. And companies like ShoreBank are blazing trails in the banking sector. "Green banks are pretty new--there are probably less than 10 out there," says Michael Whelchel, founder of investment bank Watershed Capital, which partners with entrepreneurs committed to sustainable practices. "Because of these banks, entrepreneurs can align their personal values with their actions in ways they couldn't before."
Whelchel predicts that the number of sustainable banks will grow, but in a very specific way. As these independent banks crop up, he says, larger banks will likely acquire them to enter the market. He notes that big banks, such as Wells Fargo, have recently made multibillion-dollar commitments to sustainable energy--a business practice he believes will likely trickle down to commercial loans to entrepreneurs.
In pure economic terms, interest rates are typically higher than those found at traditional banks. But Dave Williams, CEO of ShoreBank, sees value in the expertise offered. "We understand these kinds of strategies, have scientists on staff who know these kinds of businesses and can even help businesses generate revenue while operating in a way that helps build sustainability," he says.
Plus, the big picture is a little different. Referring to the eco-audit that was part of his loan application process, Gile says, "Most banks just want to see your P&L and balance sheet. These guys also want to know if you're a good steward."