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Banking for sustainable development

By JUDITH UFFORD, Features Editor
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT! This is one issue that entrepreneurs, blue chip companies, financial organisations and multinationals are not likely to concern themselves with.

The reason is not far-fetched – the profit margin overrides the subject of sustainable development. Recent events, however, have made the issue of sustainable development increasingly important. With the global financial crisis and Nigerian banks hit in the areas of governance, ethics and risk management issues, no serious financial organisation can ignore this all important subject matter. But the question is: how do businesses operate without adversely affecting the environment as well as keep sustainability in view?

It is an attempt to answer this question that Access Bank Plc took the bull by the horn working with some development partners such as FMO, International Finance Corporation (IFC), African Development Bank (ADB) and Proparco to embark on a sustainable project.

The project which came in form of an Environment and Social risk management (E&S) workshop took place at the Ikoyi Hotel-Southern Sun, Lagos. First of its kind in the industry in Nigeria, the workshop had as guest speaker Mr. Herman Mulder, a thought leader in the area of Sustainability and former Head of Group Risk Management, ABN AMBRO. Mr. Mulder is of the view that for governments not to lose the confidence of the people they are supposed to protect, environment and social risks issues should be taken seriously.

The bank’s managing director, Mr. Aigboye Aig-Imoukhuede noted that the workshop “is part of a significant investment by the bank to improve its capacity to deal with environmental and social risk issues.”

“Since environmental and social risks involves customers, government and the entire community, it is not something that can be restricted to Access bank alone; it is something that has to be introduced to the entire Nigerian economy. We want to start with the financial institutions and then together, once we get signed on and buy in by other financial institutions, we will migrate it to government and the civil society,” Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede explained.

Speaking in the same vein, the executive director, finance matters, Mr. Ebenezer Olufowose stated that it had become topical globally for banks and other international institutions to look at sustainablity as a major consideration because according to him “banks and other companies are increasingly coming under scrutiny not just in terms of their financial performance.”

The world he noted also wants to “see what you are doing for your community, what you are doing for sustainability and what are doing for employees and what you are doing for the environment.” And he was not done.

“For us in Nigeria, what we tend to see is that companies focus more on announcing their philanthropic gestures against what they are doing to sustain the environment and ensure a balance between their economic performance, environmental performance as well as their social and governance performance,” he added.

But there is a whole world of difference between E&S management and the social responsibility function of the bank. For Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede, E&S goes beyond social responsibility. Said he: “The nature of the world is that crisis will always come, challenges will always come but expertise in environmental and social risk management ensures that you tend to avoid crisis so that by the time it comes, you are not caught or even if you are exposed in one way or the other, you have a very strong capacity to mitigate and manage it.”

Mr. Olufowose’s argument threw up more social issues, one of which is the rightness in dealing with environment and social risk issues when the core subject of basic needs and poverty have not been addressed in this clime. But the managing director, Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede rose to the occasion.

According to him, E& S is not an issue that should be rushed into.

Continuing, he stated that “there is a recognition that it is easier for countries that have addressed the issue of basic needs to begin to address environmental and social risk issues.” For him, there is a disconnect in this line of argument.

“Can it really ever be right for us to rationalise doing something wrong because the greater good is that they (Western nations) have more money? For instance, my family is starving, so is it right for the female members of my family to become prostitutes to feed us?

That is the way I would like us to rationalise it. The nation needs wealth and therefore should we pollute the entire environment to create wealth. We must address how to build our wealth but we must find out a way to do it without damaging our environment and debasing the social rights of our people,” he said sounding like an environmental crusader.

Ms. Carey Bohjanem , senior manager, Sustainable Finance Ltd said her organisation has been helping the bank to grow her climate change scheme in the last one and half years. The entire scheme she said is about green and managed environment.

“We train their staff on programmes and procedures. There is a number of important environmental and social issues that need to be attended to in Nigeria at the level of government and private sector. This is because whatever happens has implication for our children and children’s children,” she added. She stressed that on the environment, her organisation does strategy and policy development; procedures on climate change, carbon market, etc.

According to the deputy group managing director, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, the whole idea of sustainability and green is that there are several aspects of our lives and how we live that we need to look at. Adding that there is the issue of implementation which is a gradual process. “You are not going to go from zero to 100 in one day. So there would be an implementation programme that we will work on.”

Participants at the workshop were drawn from Access bank. According to the managing director, future workshops would include other banks.

Said he: “ When you are pursuing change, you start small, entrench it and then with expertise and buy in of that small group, you begin to send the message wider and wider. It is important for us to entrench E&S within Access Bank and it will give us the credibility and sustainability to sell it to others.”


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