Economic Development ESG Leadership

Climate First Bank: Making Change

Environmental, Social and Governance

Sustainability + Profitability = Success

Climate First Bank opened in June 2021 with the twin objectives of being financially solid for its customers and investors and being committed to sustainability for the planet. Since then, the values-based community bank has exceeded its financial goals while continuing to infuse internationally recognized climate-friendly practices into its DNA.

By the end of February 2022, the bank’s assets had passed $150 million, and Climate First is on a trajectory to exceed its goal of $230 million by the end of the year.

The biggest challenge, Founder and CEO Ken LaRoe says, is the reality of operating a viable banking business and at the same time focusing on the company’s commitment to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles. “It’s like running a for-profit and a nonprofit at the same time. They have competing initiatives, goals and strategies.”

LaRoe formerly founded First Green Bank in 1999, which grew to more than $825 million in assets and was purchased by Seacoast Bank in 2018. “I found that with First Green, I tried to run parallel business plans for our profit and nonprofit sides, and it did not work,” LaRoe says. “They have to be completely intertwined in the goals and objectives of every person in the organization.”

For example, he and his team have been trying to find a solution to one of his pet peeves: the plastic windows in envelopes that have become standard in the finance industry. No luck yet in getting them replaced with purely paper, but he vows to keep pushing for reform while also touting paperless transactions.

As the bank approaches its one-year anniversary, it has hit numerous milestones, including:

  • Opening its first branch in downtown St. Petersburg. A lifelong Lake County resident, LaRoe had to open outside of the metro Orlando area to comply with a noncompete agreement from the First Green sale, which expired in October 2021.
  • Opening a second branch at 1150 South Orlando Avenue in Winter Park, where a $900,000 renovation project is retrofitting the building for optimum energy efficiency with a goal of pursuing a LEEDv4 Platinum certification for design and construction.
  • Securing property to move its headquarters into a larger building it is retrofitting across from St. Petersburg’s first Whole Foods market.
  • Setting plans to open a branch in Mount Dora in a leased building while the bank builds a LEED Platinum structure.
  • Creating the Regeneration Checking personal account with the slogan “Bank like tomorrow depends on it.” Based on the principles of environmentalist Paul Hawken, the account comes with an autographed copy of his book Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation.
  • Joining the Net Zero Banking Alliance created by the United Nations for banks worldwide committed to aligning lending and investment portfolios with net-zero emissions by 2050.
  • Joining the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials, a growing Dutch financial initiative launched globally in 2019. About 250 member banks have committed to implementing sustainable best practices that extend all the way out to suppliers.
  • Applying for B Corp status, which requires companies to be in existence for at least one year. Benefit Corporations are a new and growing group of for-profit ventures designed to operate in ways that benefit the public like nonprofits. Only a handful exist in Florida.
  • Becoming one of two FDIC-insured banks granted membership into 1% for the Planet for businesses and individuals who donate at least 1% of annual sales or salary to environmental causes.

“I just don’t ever want to have that day when my grandkids say, ‘Grandpa, what was your generation thinking?’ and I don’t have a good response. I want to know I was doing everything I could.” – Ken LaRoe

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About the author

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the CEO, editor and publisher of i4 Business. She is also the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC, which has handled content marketing projects including nonfiction books, white papers, executive speeches and scripts since 2000. She is co-founder of the nonprofit Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect women-owned and minority-owned business owners with growth opportunities internationally.

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