Sustainability: A brave new world of opportunity

With thoughts turning to the crucial Paris climate talks, I find it extremely encouraging to see corporates warming to the idea of sustainability.

Sustainability: A brave new world of opportunity

Sustainable business is better business. And it presents opportunities for ING to work with clients in their transition towards tomorrow’s economy. To illustrate the point, one of our key clients recently said that he was looking to partner with a bank who can help him look ahead 10 years, and understand what the world will be like. Defining this journey together is very exciting – a new generation of business partnership.

Whilst business and finance are often cited as part of the problem, the world’s myriad sustainability issues can’t be solved without them. We have an important role to play.

For example, as a UNEP Finance Initiative board member, we have initiated the Positive Impact Manifesto with our peers. The manifesto calls for an impact-based approach to banking, recognising a bold and innovative vision of the sector’s central role in achieving sustainable development.

We are financing change, significantly increasing our lending volume for sustainable clients and projects. In the first half of 2015, these deals, including loans to renewable energy schemes and environmental outperformers, surpassed €20 billion. We also recently issued a green bond, meeting the highest market standards and supporting the green growth ambition we are seeing across the market.

Companies and investors are now looking at their organisations through a wider lens. No longer is there only a focus on the financials – the wider cost to society is also being considered.

To thrive in a world where sustainability takes centre stage, forward-looking businesses are embracing sustainability requirements, using them to foster innovation, drive competitiveness, and create new business models. Change, innovation and sustainability can nowadays go hand in hand presenting an opportunity to become stronger in the near future.

So the mindset has shifted. Investors realise they are investing for future generations who will live in the world that their money is shaping. The financial sector has a dual responsibility, to exceed benchmarks whilst providing a good quality of life for beneficiaries. 

Every investment decision has social and environmental costs and benefits that are becoming increasingly significant, so it’s important to make these decisions with the long term in mind. Many sustainability issues are too big to deal with alone. So the financial sector is collaborating – with suppliers, customers, civil society, regulators and policymakers. We all have a shared interest in a better world.

Sustainability is not something you put to one side, or create a separate portfolio for. It’s something to integrate into business as usual. It will become the new reality. And those companies anticipating these changes, thinking forward, will be best equipped for the challenges, and opportunities, that lie ahead.

Leonie Schreve, head of sustainable lending, ING

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