Campaigners are calling on firms to align their pensions with net zero after research found that cash and investments can undermine the efforts of even the most climate-conscious of companies.

According to breakthrough research published in a new report, The Carbon Bankroll, the carbon footprint generated by investments and cash held in banks can sometimes be a company’s largest source of carbon emissions.

Hidden impact

In 2021, for example, the emissions generated by Microsoft’s $130 billion held in cash and investments were comparable to the cumulative emissions generated by the manufacturing, transportation and use of every Microsoft product in the world. In 2020, Amazon’s $81 billion held in cash and investments generated more emissions than the energy used to power every Amazon facility around the world.

The authors suggest that, just as companies can work to decarbonise their operations and supply chains, they can also work to decarbonise their finances by moving their investments or pushing their bank to reduce their financing of fossil fuels.

“It is impossible to overstate just how important this analysis is,” prominent environmental campaigner Bill McKibben commented. “This team is uncovering the largest remaining source of huge and hidden carbon emissions in our economy. It’s the equivalent of the moment when physical scientists figured out the last big new source of carbon – the melting tundra. But in this case, armed with these figures, we can swiftly do something about it.”


Pension schemes are currently under particularly strong scrutiny. According to campaign group Make My Money Matter (MMMM), which was co-founded by British filmmaker Richard Curtis, ‘greening’ your pension is 21 times more powerful than giving up flying, going vegetarian and switching to renewable energy.

From October 2022, UK pension schemes will be legally required to measure and publish how their investments are aligned with (or not aligned with) international climate agreements. However, pension schemes will not be required to remedy any misalignment at this stage.

MMMM claims that UK pension schemes currently enable more carbon emissions worldwide than the UK’s entire annual output, but only 44 per cent of UK chief executives are aware of these impacts.

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Make My Money Matter wants all businesses to harness the hidden superpower of their pensions and align their company schemes with their corporate sustainability plans.

Richard Curtis, British Filmmaker

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