Outlining our Transdisciplinary Design Initiative

Bank of Nature has emerged through a design initiative, transdisciplinary collaboration and philosophy to think differently about how we might live in a “human-nature” partnership that addresses climate crisis.

The original question was and is: Seeing how most everyone knows how to borrow with terms at their local bank, can nature be a bank? (Some more thinking on that.)


Can we foster an economy that is interactive with nature, rather than extractive of nature?

Similarly, what does it mean for us to “make more nature?” rather than deplete it, when we know it is reaching/has reached its limitations?

Money, for better or worse, is an obstacle to big-scale action.  “We can’t afford to address climate change — either because of the actual dollar cost or how it disrupts the toxic status quo that has a lot of defenders.”

If science had unlimited financial resources, what would science do to improve the climate forecasts?

Who might be a climate hero?

Who speaks for nature?

Nature as a bank manager

If nature, as a bank manager, is unhappy with our lack of repayment on resources “borrowed” from nature, can the metaphor be extended to the question:

Is climate change an eviction notice?

That’s were we started as a philosophy. Through collaboration, investigation and other design thinking we have added the engine of fiduciary finance — which makes the philosophy a real world goal.

If we need to repay our loan to nature, fiduciary finance is a way. 

Bank of Nature as a philosophy explores how we can address the accumulation of negative externalities by current status quo that accrue to the future. Current economics don’t account for the true cost of enterprise — asthma-causing pollution in the atmosphere as a notable example. Additionally, future-dimming industries like oil and gas benefit from subsidies, tax relief and other incentives that artificially prop up their business. One estimate from 2012 (so, yes, dusty) is that 41 cents of every dollar of earnings at a business is owed to nature.

What’s the mechanism that allows a business, voluntarily or not, to pay that share of earnings to nature? If it’s Bank of Nature, what do we do with that money that repays nature what we owe? How do we collect it, remit it, account for it? We’ve got answers to all that in concept. However, because it involves billions and trillions of dollars, the opportunity is beyond our little nonprofit — so far.

Who has billions and trillions?

  • Who or what has billions and trillions of dollars that can be compelled to address how human society lives in nature at the scale of nature?
  • Who or what operates on the time scale of nature — over the long-term?

The answer is neither government nor industry. Actually, it might take a moment for you to recalibrate — especially if you depend on government to do more than it is presently to address the climate crisis.

Our answer is that neither government and industry has the scale to address the climate crisis, even if they wanted to, and we’re not convinced they want to. Civil society also is not large enough to affect change, since they are beholden to government grants, industry sponsors and philanthropists who provide their operating funds.

Our answer points to the fiduciaries of defined benefits pension plans — like public pensions for government workers who are retired now or won’t retire for decades.

Ours a non traditional answer, but it’s worth the time to consider its merits.

Fiduciaries of defined benefits plans — the kinds of pensions that have a fiduciary and fiduciary duty oversight — are:

  • The largest aggregated public savings on the planet. Give or take $30 trillion globally, which is the scale of the climate crisis. They are bigger than government and bigger than industry.
  • Vividly pinned to the future. In a world that struggles to implement long-termism, public pension funds are the best example of how we are doing it already. Or, at least, should be doing it already.
  • Manage what amounts to a public good — keeping older people financially secure for the betterment of the economy and society.
  • Notably unworried about competitive advantage, national security and geopolitics.
  • Untapped, so far, as viable “heroes of climate change”.

That, briefly is how we got to here from there: Can nature be a bank? We think yes.

Bank of Nature is an act of applied imagination — a label we wear proudly since we received an early fellowship from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and Imagination. We are an ongoing design initiative with the goal to make a real world contribution that puts our fiduciary philosophy to work.

Our design in action today is:

Legislation. A legislative bill called Project Source Code that restates fiduciary standards for billion-dollar public pensions that could do more with their massive duty-bound savings than they do. The MA fiduciary standards bill is about fiduciaries leading as stewards of the future — as they were and are designed to do, despite some rather non fiduciary modern practice.

Litigation, which is expensive, time consuming and limited by what interpretations of fiduciary duty are in legal opinion. Our grounds? Not all beneficiaries are treated equally in modern fiduciary practice and that’s non fiduciary in the law. Our plaintiffs are beneficiaries whose futures are a stake because their fiduciaries spend the value of their pension on industries that dim those futures. Litigation is on our radar, but we need litigation partners to execute on this.

Defining Stewardship through Fiduciary Values. The big idea at Bank of Nature is that fiduciary duty is a social contract with enforceable terms and conditions over the very long-term. There are 30 million public service workers in the US represented by $5 trillion in funds dedicated to delivering their Pension Promise. It’s not IF a public pension makes a return on investment, but HOW it makes that return on investment in ways that protect the future for their own beneficiaries. Stewardship at the scale of fiduciaries with duty that points billions toward the future — well, that benefits all of us. Fiduciary values are Earthling values.

Outreach: We’ve been invited to conferences to present fiduciary finance. We host our own seminars. We are networking with pension funds, advocates and unions to build our community of support. Reach out if you want to connect.

Fundraising: The perennial non profit challenge is ours too. In order to scale up Bank of Nature — including our initial overhead and first hires — we need fiduciary-minded investors to hear our pitch and support our cause. Donors can send a tax-deductible check to the Cape Cod Center for Sustainability.