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Business Observer Thursday, May 6, 2021 1 year ago

Bank on environmental mission raises nearly $30 million as it prepares to open first branch

Climate First Bank, which promises to be carbon neutral, opens its first branch June 1.

Banking is about to get a whole more sustainable in St. Pete.

Climate First Bank, which promises to be carbon neutral, is scheduled to open its first branch in downtown St. Petersburg June 1. The branch will be at 5301 Central Avenue.

According to the bank, Climate First was founded “with a vision to reimagine the community bank as a force for positive change.”

It operates under environmental, social and governance principles, meaning it’s socially conscious about how it conducts business. 

Climate Bank, to date, has raised $29 million in capital.

While it’ll offer traditional services — loans, savings and checking accounts, mortgages—Climate First executives say they'll work toward cutting down atmospheric carbon dioxide by offering clients “affordable green loan options.” These will include lending people and businesses money for solar panels, LEED-certified retrofitting and electric and hybrid vehicles. The bank is also promising to put “special emphasis on non-governmental organizations.”

Who they won’t lend money to are extractive industries, officials say, which extract raw materials from the earth.

Longtime Florida banker Ken LaRoe founded Climate First. In 2009, he opened First Green Bank in Mount Dora, which he claims was the first bank in the eastern U.S. with an environmental and social responsibility mission statement  that also operated as a traditional community bank. 

First Green had $825 million in total assets when it was sold to Stuart-based Seacoast Bank, for $115 million, in 2018. The bank provided low-interest commercial loans for solar energy projects and provided banking services to the medical marijuana industry. 

LaRoe wears the sustainable model proudly. “I tell people I’m a rabid environmentalist, and all the conservatives in the room roll their eyes,” he told the Business Observer last year. “And I say, ‘Yeah, but I'm a rabid capitalist too.’ They go hand in hand, contrary to what you might believe. If you're not making money, and you're not prosperous, none of these environmental things are going to happen.”

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