Tune in as host Anne Richardson of the BSuite podcast interviews Charley Cummings, CEO of Walden Mutual Bank, a cooperative financial institution stewarding positive change by supporting sustainable farms and food businesses in New England and New York. Anne and Charley take a deep dive into sustainable alternatives to traditional banking models and what goes into building a mutual bank from the ground up. They discuss the hidden carbon impact of banking, the process of adapting B Corp values to a financial institution, and how a kid from Cape Cod became a mission-driven leader in divergent industries of food and finance.
Considering the Carbon Impact of Your Savings Account
Charley begins by explaining how the mission of Walden Mutual Bank is to use its deposits to fund loans to sustainable farms and food businesses. This differentiates it from other local and regional banks. He stresses the need to consider carbon impact when choosing a bank and shines light on the shocking carbon impact that comes from banks investing in non-ESG funds, that is, funds that deprioritize environmental, social, and governance factors. Individuals and corporations can and should choose to bank with values-based institutions, in order to minimize their environmental impact and show their support for social justice initiatives.
Charley’s Story: Supporting Food Sustainability
Charley was born in Iowa, where, as he shares, “the population of pigs actually eclipses the population of people.” Soon after moving to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, his passion for sustainability was sparked when he witnessed backlash in response to Cape Wind’s proposed wind farm on Nantucket Sound. Later on, the industrial and pollutive farming methods he observed in California’s Central Valley in contrast with the organic farming methods he learned from his wife inspired Charley to start his sustainable meat delivery business, Walden Local Meats, a certified B Corporation based in New England. In 2023, he founded Walden Mutual Bank to help other agricultural and food businesses carry on the cause.
An Ecosystem of Socially Responsible Organizations
Anne and Charley discuss how each of their businesses seek to support other companies who are moving towards becoming values-based organizations. Walden Mutual Bank sets standards of sustainability for its deposit customers and provides incentives and toolkits to motivate loan customers to become more sustainable, even reimbursing those who pursue B Corp certification, organic certification or regenerative certification. Like Charley, Anne enjoys serving as a mentor for companies seeking B Corp certification by volunteering as a business advisor with the University of New Hampshire B Impact Clinic, where companies embark upon their B Corp journey.
Assessing the Impact of Diverse Businesses
Anne and Charley touch upon the complexities of the B Impact Assessment, the rigorous evaluation tool developed by B Lab for prospective B Corps. Walden Mutual Bank has developed its own client impact assessment, and there are plenty of other ways that conscious businesses can evaluate their social and environmental footprint. Charley feels strongly that businesses must consider their impact on all stakeholders, from workers to customers. Anne and Charley agree that in order to engage in any type of ethical promotion and build a loyal satisfied customer base, it’s important to recognize the human impact of advertising on today’s digital marketing channels.