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Just last month another Equator Principles member, Credit Suisse First Boston, found itself the target of new global protests for its decision to underwrite Shell's controversial Sakhalin II pipeline in the northern Pacific, a project that environmentalists say threatens the endangered western gray whale. Without adequate transparency and monitoring of sensitive projects, NGOs fear, the Equator Principles will become meaningless. "What good is a series of principles like this if you can't verify that they are being applied on a project-by-project basis?" asks Oil Change's Kretzmann. "Equator banks are saying to people, 'Trust us,' but they are not allowing any independent verification. That's a problem."
Despite those differences, banks and NGOs are likely to keep working together. The reason is simple: socially and environmentally responsible investment makes good business sense. HSBC, Citigroup and ABN Amro all say green issues are increasingly important when they consider funding global projects. "[In the future], the Equator Principles will be seen as a catalyst for how banks conduct themselves in other areas of their business," says ABN Amro's Burrett. If that happens, activists in haz-mat suits will have to find another target.