OVERVIEW: Wells Fargo seriously entered the ring when it comes to environmental grantmaking in 2012 with a commitment to give $100 million to the issue by 2020. Giving is on the rise, with grants going to dozens of nonprofits in annual bundles. One of two priorities is clean technology and innovation, and the corporate foundation just launched its own cleantech incubator.
IP TAKE: This bank's corporate foundation has a pretty structured annual grantmaking program. But Wells Fargo is full of surprises lately when it comes to green giving, and is definitely one to watch as grantmaking scales up.
PROFILE: Most people probably know Wells Fargo as one of the largest banks in the country, or perhaps as the place where the student loan checks go every month. To be specific, it’s the fourth largest bank in the United States and hauled in $22 billion in profit in 2013. Wells Fargo also continues to catch its share of heat from the SEC and federal government for its lending practices, before and after the financial crash.
But it also happens to be quite committed to the environment, both in terms of financing green companies and its own corporate and philanthropic activity. Indeed, Wells Fargo's corporate responsibility program has been grabbing our attention lately. While many big banks operate community projects programs, Wells Fargo has made the environment a signature priority.
The company’s environmental work has a few fronts, including financing for environmental initiatives, volunteer work performed by employees in the communities, and improving the efficiency of its buildings. In 2012, the company unveiled its new environmental goals, which include a commitment to give $100 million in grants by 2020.
In that first year, it translated to $8 million in grants, an 80 percent increase from the previous year. And in 2013, it made $21.8 million in grants to more than 350 nonprofits. Do note, however, that while green grants are on the rise, it’s still only a chunk of the bank’s overall giving, which actually gives much larger amounts at this point to causes like community projects and education.
The company’s environmental giving has two main forks that nonprofits can apply to — there’s Environmental Solutions for Communities, which is a partnership through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. And then there’s the Clean Technology and Innovation program.
The latter program funds a mix of renewable energy, energy efficiency, green buildings, alternative transportation, water, and sustainable agriculture. The funding strategies include both support for tech incubator and accelerator programs, as well as research and development projects at universities. The goal is to create scalable solutions for a low carbon economy, and one-time grants range between $50,000 and $200,000.
In a recent year, grantmaking from the program totaled $2 million going to 25 organizations. Some representative grants are:
- Seven accelerator/incubators received funding, including the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, Rice University, and UC Berkeley’s Cleantech to Market Commercialization Program.
- In transportation, Santa Clara University won a grant for a project on electric vehicle charging technology. And Go Electric Drive was funded for an education program on electric vehicles.
- Boston University received a grant to conduct energy efficiency training for urban housing.
While the conservation program runs on an open RFP schedule, and the clean tech program initially did the same, it’s now a closed, invitation-only process. The foundation will, however, accept very short emails to submit a topic for consideration.
Aside from annual rounds of grants from the clean technology and innovation RFP, we also see some other big giving. As a matter of fact, the bank’s biggest recent announcement was sort of a supercharged version of its clean technology grants.
Wells Fargo just introduced IN2, a cleantech incubator co-administered by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab, and launched with a grant of $10 million from the corporate foundation. The project brings together a team of partners from some top universities and research institutions to advise on early-stage technology that IN2 should back. Projects will then receive financial support and mentoring from NREL and Wells Fargo execs. The bank will even be beta testing some of the new technology in its facilities as the developers work to bring their projects to the market.
And finally, the bank does its share of financing of green businesses. In addition to the $100 million in grants, the company intends to provide $30 billion in financing to “environmentally beneficial” business opportunities.
Again, leading up to 2020, this will be one to watch. The clean technology grants and the IN2 center are promising programs, but only part of the bank’s grantmaking strategy as it climbs to $100 million. To keep an eye on progress, I recommend Wells Fargo’s environment blog linked below (and us, of course).
Currently application to Wells Fargo is by invitation only.
- Mary Wenzel, Director of Environmental Affairs
- Ashley Grosh, Project Manager for Environmental Affairs