For people around the world, fear of climate change is the beginning of wisdom in recent times.
Urbanisation and rapid expansion of cities are causing destruction of vegetation and farmlands. Release of hazardous chemicals into the atmosphere has put the world population at risk.
The resultant effect is that the environment is quickly lashing back at the unsustainable use of its resources arising from these activities. Massive industrialisation, actions that further jeopardise the ozone layer are equally causing a ripple effect on land and sea temperature and leading to recent occurrence of hurricanes and massive flooding of many cities around the world.
One important area intended to be tackled by this sustainable development agenda is climate change and how human activities lead up to the situation where environmental degradation causes inability of the environment to sustain life.
These are some of the issues that need to be addressed under an agenda called sustainable development. It requires proactive actions to save the planet and sustain lives, but cannot be handled solely by government.
Consequently, on September 25, 2015, the United Nations general assembly adopted 17 interconnected goals which form the universal, integrated and transformative 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.
The 1983 World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland in a comprehensive document entitled Our Common Future, otherwise known as the Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 193 member nations of the United Nations, Nigeria inclusive, formally took on implementation of these global goals in the year 2016 with hopes of full attainment in every country by 2030.
Over the years, businesses have shown commitment to communities and society through philanthropic gestures even though most of these gestures do not align with the business strategy of the organisation. These philanthropic gestures evolved into the concept of corporate social responsibility with little understanding of sustainable development. But more recently, the concept of corporate sustainability has emerged. Firms today are increasingly incorporating sustainability into core business activities from marketing to advertising and communication.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Nigeria was launched in 2016. Its aim is to end extreme poverty, promote the wellbeing of all, protect the environment, address climate change, encourage good governance as well as ensure peace and security for all by 2030.
But after careful assessment by stakeholders, it was agreed that the SDGs only stand a chance at being achieved if everyone takes a part in the implementation.
This means that national, state and local governments, the private sector, the academia, civil society as well as average everyday citizens all have a stake at achieving Agenda 2030. The stakeholders also believe that time has come to begin to educate people on the importance of sustainable use of nature’s resources in a way that these resources are not used up faster than they can be replenished.
Therefore, some private sector organisations have taken up the challenge. Leading the way is foremost financial institution, Access Bank Plc. First, the bank’s Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Herbert Wigwe explains how the lender sees sustainability. According to him, “At Access Bank we define sustainability as providing innovative solutions to support global efforts in addressing social, environmental and economic challenges.”
Corporate Sustainability is entrenched on three pillars: Profit, Planet and People and these pillars have been embedded into how the bank carries out its business across various locations
This comes with a vision to be the most sustainable and respected bank in Africa, financing and facilitating brighter futures for all of our stakeholders through innovative services and best in class operations.”
Successfully embedding sustainability practices into its banking processes, Access Bank has continued to develop simpler and smarter products and services that are relevant to Nigerians, not losing focus of its vision to be the world’s most respected African Bank.
Access Bank said it is setting standards for sustainable business practices that unleash the talents of employees, deliver superior value to customers and provide innovative solutions for the markets and communities it serves.
Its sustainability footprints are grouped into four buckets: economic development; Environmental responsibility; sustaining societies; collaborations & partnerships. At a recent launch of Nigeria’s Green Bond market development programme in Lagos, the Group Deputy Managing Director, Access Bank, Mr Roosevelt Ogbonna said “Our strategy, together with a solid corporate governance structure, has enabled Access Bank to retain its leadership position, contributing significantly to the economic growth of Nigeria and the broader African continent.
“We recognise that a better and prosperous future is linked to the well-being and health of our planet. Thus, the protection of the environment is relevant to us. This encourages us to continue to invest in innovative technologies and techniques that promote the efficient use of resources and address sustainability issues when managing risk.
“We continue to impact lives positively and responsibly in communities across Africa. Through this, we are able to continually contribute to the socio-economic development of these communities and help to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over the years, our areas of focus in community investment have included gender equality, women empowerment, entrepreneurship, leadership, education, health, arts, and sports.”
Access Bank’s footprints in sustainability
Every year, one per cent of the lender’s profit before tax is allocated to sustainability initiatives incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) rating as part of lending criteria. It has introduced a financial inclusion strategy and developed a USSD platform as fallout to bring the unbanked population into the financial system.
The bank’s efforts in this regard over the past few years, Wigwe added, has resulted in improvement in environmental footprints. For instance, waste reduction initiatives form a key part of the bank’s cost reduction strategy. The Save Paper initiative launched across several business locations was aimed at cutting printing paper use by 50 per cent while N1.4 billion has been invested in capacity building for female employees of the bank who are now happier and better committed to delivering excellent services.
In terms of gender balance, the bank said its board composition is above the CBN regulation of 30 per cent. It carried out early branch closure policy to cut down electricity costs and introduced employee volunteering scheme to provide employees with a platform for giving back to society.
The bank has also created an inclusive and empowering environment for its employees through various initiatives. One of such initiatives is the introduction of sustainability as a part of the ‘W initiative’ targeted at Women Empowerment, whereby it has educated 55,000 women so far, through W Academy.
Sustainability according to the lender has been embedded in its culture as it has included it as part of assessment in the performance evaluation process of employees.
On economic development, Access Bank introduced ‘Beta Mama Beta Pikin’ to promote savings culture amongst the lower band of society whilst providing an opportunity for mothers and their children to gain access to health insurance. It supported 30 hospitals through the Hospital Facility Upgrade Support Scheme (HFUSS) and launched N1billion Access Nolly Fund: a new and innovative financial service aimed at improving and providing solutions for the Nigerian Movie industry.
On environmental responsibility, its efforts in this regard, over the past few years, have resulted in improvements in the environmental footprints. For instance, it resulted in 63.4 per cent reduction of emissions from electricity, 16. 7 per cent reduction in Emissions from petrol across Nigeria; led to 28.8 per cent reduction in emissions from diesel across Nigeria as validated by the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP).
The bank’s sustainability footprints have also led to 24.9 per cent reduction in diesel usage from early shutdown policy since June 2017, even as it has introduced over 413 solar-powered Automated Teller Machines (ATMs).
“Our Ogunlana Drive branch is fully powered by solar energy with no connection to the national grid we have four solar-powered branches, 311 branches powered by hybrid of alternative energy sources and national grid and we have LED lightings in all our facilities nationwide,” Ogbonna said.
On sustaining societies in Africa, the lender said through strategic investments in communities; it has in the last few years impacted 853 communities, 20,071,453 beneficiaries and 358 Non-Governmental Organisations beneficiaries.
Partnerships and Disclosures
To underscore the importance of collaborative efforts in achieving the SDGs, Access Bank and the FMDQ securities market recently formalized partnership with the Financial Sector Deepening Africa and Climate Bonds Initiative United Kingdom. The aim is to revolutionize the Nigerian debt capital markets (DCM) into properly- functioning and globally -competitive market. The partnership was entered into through a cooperation agreement to support development of the Nigerian Green Bond issuance. At the launch of the instrument in Lagos, Wigwe said this is in line with sustainability programs of the bank.
Wigwe who was represented by Ogbonna said the green bond initiative provides an opportunity for Access Bank to have one more leap ahead in the pursuit of sustainable development goals of the United Nations.
“We understand that adherence, to the principles, values and shared commitments of our partnerships is much more important to ensure that our partnerships are effective and that it will really make significant impact towards our sustainable development,” he said.
The green bond market development programme is part of a wider cooperative partnership to grow sustainable and green investment within the Nigerian debt capital markets.
The launch was one of the major events that took place during Green Bonds Week, which sees local and international stakeholders gather in Lagos to discuss the impact of climate risk on investment portfolios, the role of regulators in developing the local market and growing green bond issuance.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, while addressing guests at the formal launch of the bond said that the initiative would present profitable investment opportunities to stakeholders and investors, adding that the finance would help to reduce greenhouse emission and mitigate harsh effects of climate change in the State.
Represented by his Deputy, Dr Oluranti Adebule, Governor Ambode gave assurance that his administration would take maximum advantage of the opportunity embedded in the Green Bond Market to reverse the current harsh trends of climate change.
He expressed optimism that the Green Bond will enhance the execution of projects to mitigate the effects of climate change in Lagos, while asserting that the success achieved during the N10.69 billion Green Bond issued by the Federal Government last year was a testimony to the fact that Climate Bond investment is a viable option for promoting sustainable growth in the environment.
Climate Bonds,Director of Market Development, Justine Leigh-Bell said, “The Nigeria Green Bonds Market Development Program is a big step towards unlocking the full potential for domestic issuance while developing a pipeline of green investment opportunities and engaging with local and international investors. We are excited about the future in the region.”
Sustainable projects covered under the Green Bond proghamme are: renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable waste management, sustainable land use (forestry and agriculture), biodiversity, clean transportation and clean water. Their structure, risk and returns are otherwise identical to those of traditional bonds
In terms of disclosures, Access Bank says it benchmarks its performance against the nine Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles and produces at least annually, a public Equator Principles report, on transactions that have reached Financial Close and on its Equator Principles implementation processes and experience. It discloses environmental information and impacts in accordance with UNEPFI Principles. The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) is a global partnership established between the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the financial sector. UNEP FI seeks to engage the private sector and the global financial sector, as well as encourage the better implementation of sustainability principles at all levels of operations in financial institutions. Their focus has also been to inspire their members to take Environmental, Social, and Governance issues into their relationships and trade with their customers.
The bank says it accurately reports London Benchmarking Group (LBG) data in the public domain, committed to embed UN Global Compact’s ten principles into business strategies and operations, and issues an annual Communication on Progress (COP), a public disclosure to stakeholders on progress, in supporting broader UN development goals. It reports client performance on eight International Finance Corporation (IFC) Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability along project lifespan and renders annual sustainability report covering performance to stakeholders, including adoption of key reporting standard to report in line with Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines.
Awards and Recognitions
These initiatives have earned the lender various accolades including the Central Bank of Nigeria sustainable banking awards. In July 2017, Access Bank emerged as the winner of the prestigious Karlsruhe Sustainable Finance award for “Outstanding Business Sustainability Achievement” in Germany, winning for the second time in a row and becoming the first African financial institution to do so. In August 2017, Access Bank was also named the ‘Most Sustainable Bank in Nigeria’ at the World Finance Awards 2017, becoming a four time consecutive winner of this award.
Access Bank roped in multiple awards at the Sustainability, Enterprise and Responsibility Awards (SERAs) including awards for Best Company In Climate Action. It won the Most Outstanding CSR Practitioner of The Year received by Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Head, Sustainability at Access Bank; Sustainability Champion of the Year given to Dr Herbert Wigwe, GMD/CEO, Access Bank; Best company CSR//Sustainability West Africa and the Most Socially Responsible Company of the Year (Overall Winner).
These awards were presented to Access Bank in recognition of its strong sustainability ethos, and its progress and commitment to embedding sustainability in its business operations whilst driving sustainable development across communities it serves.
The annual event which held on Friday, November 17, 2017 in Lagos, Nigeria was organised to promote, measure and harmonise the contributions of the public. Receiving the ‘Most Socially Responsible Company of the Year (Overall Winner)’, the Group Deputy Managing Director of Access Bank said that the lender had continued to champion responsible investing, innovative health initiatives, environmental protection and financial inclusion.
“We will remain committed to driving sustainable development locally and globally as it is a necessity for all institutions. I am honoured to lead a Bank that is committed to building a lasting and profitable financial institution that operates in a manner that will not compromise the ability of future generations to live in healthy environments and prosperous communities,” Ogbonna stated while receiving the award on behalf of the CEO.
These global and local recognitions on sustainability awarded to Access Bank demonstrate the progress made by the institution in leading the Nigerian financial industry towards sustainable finance whilst driving communities to achieve the global sustainable development goals.
Other awards are: Sustainable transaction of the year (Oil and Gas Sector); Sustainable transaction of the year (Agriculture); Excellence in Women Economic Empowerment;8 time winner of World Finance Award of Most Sustainable Bank in Nigeria; Financial Times /IFC Sustainable Bank of the year award, First West African financial institution to win the FT/IFC Sustainable Bank of the Year Award, Middle East and Africa; Best Company in Climate Action among others.
Access Bank is determined to continue to create meaningful impact around the world and its subsidiaries by increasing awareness of best sustainable practices that can be implemented within industry.
In the words of Ogbonna “As the world advances we can see that sustainability is the future, we promise to continue to be the face of social and environmental development; as well as facilitate an economy that is all inclusive and progressive.
“We have initiatives put in place to drive the level of engagement and systems designed to generate more ideas that will strengthen the sustainable agenda of the Nigeria economy
Learning from our interactions will promote our business strategies to provide more valuable solutions that empower the lives of the people and communities we serve.”
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