Along with a coalition of partners, Third Act has launched a campaign for Costco to Clean Up Its Citibank Credit Card. Including a petition, and a set of in-person actions, we are calling on Costco as a big client of Citi to pressure the bank to stop funding fossil fuels and to shop for a better credit card.

We’re used to battling companies that we don’t like: reckless polluting oil giants, heedless and greedy banks. This fall we’re trying something different: engaging a good business that has an outsized flaw. Costco is among the most admired retailers in the country. A third of Americans shop there, they treat their employees better than other big box stores, and hey…free samples! I’m about as hardcore a local economy guy as you can find, but I do have a Costco card (locally-made toilet paper being hard to come by).

But here’s the rub. Costco partners with Citibank for its co-branded credit cards. And Citibank is the definition of uncaring and heedless. It’s one of the four biggest lenders on earth to the fossil fuel industry, and they hand out the cash indiscriminately. This funding is making it possible for big oil, gas, and coal companies to keep expanding dirty, polluting projects that are contributing to the climate disasters we’ve all experienced this summer: deadly wildfires, smoky, unhealthy air, floods, hurricanes, and extreme heat waves. Citi is the number one biggest US  funder of coal; it is the second-biggest lender for oil and gas development in the Amazon rainforest (a climate crisis two-fer), and it has forked over billions for building out the LNG (liquid natural gas) terminals we’re opposing together with local communities in the Gulf Coast. Citi has lent billions to Conoco Phillips, the developer of the vast new Willow oil complex in Alaska.

What does this mean for Costco? The analysts at a think tank called TOPO have estimated that Costco’s cash in banks is the retailing giant’s biggest source of operational carbon emissions: if the retailing giant considered its emissions associated with its banking providers as part of its operational carbon footprint they would represent more than a third of the carbon it produces from its own operations. Costco has done a credible job of starting to clean up its stores and trucks.  As the company says on its website:

“we understand that we impact the environment through operating our 850 locations worldwide — and we are committed to running these in an energy-efficient and environmentally responsible manner. These efforts support our mission to remain a low-cost operator, while serving our communities, promoting environmental stewardship and reducing our carbon footprint.”

We take Costco at face value; and indeed it’s only in the last two years that we’ve really begun to realize how much carbon pollution is produced by corporate cash in banks that they then use to finance dirty fossil fuel projects. (Here’s a piece I wrote for the New Yorker that lays out the problem in detail). We hope that now that we’re raising the issue, Costco’s execs will get on it. They’re a big enough client that they can probably sway Citi to change its policies and stop lending to companies still expanding their fossil fuel operations. If Costco can’t, they should find a bank that operates as responsibly in the world of finance as Costco does in the world of retailing.

I confess I feel this one a little personally. Costco is headquartered in Kirkland, Washington (hence the name of their store brands). It’s now a big and wealthy Seattle suburb, filled with Microsoft engineers. But once upon a time it was a small ship-building town connected to Seattle by a ferry. And in those days my grandfather was the only doctor in town; somewhere I have a picture of hundreds of locals wearing shirts saying “I Was a Dr. McKibben Baby.” My Dad grew up there during the Depression, playing for the local baseball team. So when I reach for a bottle of Kirkland olive oil, it always brings a little burst of nostalgia, which is a lot better than a little burst of carbon.

Bottom line: people like Costco, and with good reason. But Costco has a problem that can be fixed fairly easily: by persuading Citi to strengthen its climate commitments or else switching to a better credit card company that isn’t wrecking the planet. These other choices exist—Sam’s Club (a Costco competitor) uses Synchrony, which does not invest in fossil fuels.

We’re asking Costco—together—to fix this problem.

You can join Third Actors, Costco members, and climate-concerned people and sign the petition urging Costco to call on Citi to step up on climate or else Costco will drop Citi. You don’t need to be a Costco member or Citi Visa card holder to join the petition. And if you are a Costco member, you can use a different Visa card at Costco stores (and find better Visa cards here and here).

Costco’s motto is “do the right thing.” Let’s remind them to do the right thing and call on Costco to shop for a better credit card.

Sign the petition urging Costco to call on Citi to step up on climate or else Costco will drop Citi

You don’t need to be a Costco member or Citi Visa card holder to join the petition.

Act Now

How to Switch to Better Banks and Credit Cards

If you are a Costco member, you can use a different Visa card at Costco stores; Find a New Visa Credit Card Here

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Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is a founder of Third Act, which organizes people over the age of 60 to work on climate, democracy, and racial justice. He founded the first global grassroots climate campaign,, and serves as the Schumann Distinguished Professor in Residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. In 2014 he was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel,’ in the Swedish Parliament. He’s also won the Gandhi Peace Award, and honorary degrees from 19 colleges and universities. He has written over a dozen books about the environment, including his first, The End of Nature, published in 1989. His most recently released book is The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at his Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened.