The banking industry is starting to shift gear when it comes to climate (although some would say not fast enough), and it’s often employees leading the charge. We sat down with three banking professionals who are pushing for change from the inside.
When you think ‘sustainability’, banking doesn’t exactly leap to mind. Sure, most of Australia’s big banks have publicly backed the Paris Agreement, or are transitioning to renewable energy, but they’re also the biggest lenders behind the fossil fuel industry. In 2020 alone, ANZ, Commbank, NAB and Westpac pumped $8.9 billion into coal, oil and natural gas.
"The key question employees should ask is – where is the bank’s money going?", says Christian Slattery from climate not-for-profit, Market Forces. “If money is still flowing to companies building and planning new coal, oil and gas projects, then the bank's climate performance is dismal.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean banking employees can’t push the needle on climate change. In fact, they’ve got a unique opportunity. Since banking is one of the biggest threats to climate action, it’s also got the biggest potential impact. Employees really matter here. No-one in banking is too small to make a difference.
We sat down with three banking professionals to find out how they’re changing Australian finance for good.
Jane Kern, Bank Australia
Jane Kern heads up Impact Management at Bank Australia, one of the few Australian banks (and a certified B Corp) with no track record of fossil fuel lending. It’s her job to look at the bank’s core activities – its products, lending, and investments – and identify the biggest opportunities for climate impact.
"I did my Masters in sustainability while living in Switzerland," Jane says, "and then went to work for a climate finance organisation, driving investment in sustainable energy. It was the first time I really understood the importance of money, and the influence it has on global policy."
At Bank Australia, Jane was part of the team that introduced the bank’s Clean Energy Home Loan, where customers would get a mortgage discount if their home met certain eco standards. "It wasn’t exactly a new idea," Jane says, "Bank Australia had a similar product 10 years ago, but it didn’t get much take up. I think it was before its time. Now the market is ready: there’s an ecosystem for green homes, and our customers expect us to take action. The response has been great!"
"There’s an ecosystem for green homes, and our customers expect us to take action."
Buildings account for 23% of Australia’s total emissions, and roughly one half of that is residential homes. Jane says that by focussing on small stuff (making our house more sustainable, for example) we can drive much bigger change.
"Decarbonising is a massive thing for us. An individual home doesn’t cause many emissions in the scheme of things, but if you’re adding up tens of thousands of homes across Australia, suddenly it’s quite a lot. You can really scale up your impact."
Michael Lambden, NAB
Before joining NAB as Head of Climate and Sustainability Solutions, Michael Lambden worked for the Victorian government, designing residential solar schemes and handing out social enterprise loans. It was a good fit for someone who studied commerce and a Masters of Environmental Climate Science.
"My time in government, it was very well-meaning work, full of incredibly smart people, but did we move the needle on climate? Probably not," he admits. "I wanted to go where I could have the biggest impact, and put simply, banking and finance are the key agents to get this stuff moving."
"I wanted to go where I could have the biggest impact, and put simply, banking and finance are the key agents to get this stuff moving."
As part of an effort to build a team of 'climate bankers', Michael teamed up with Melbourne Business School to set up the NAB’s climate finance course, one of the first of its kind in Australia. The course was designed to help bank employees identify climate-related risks, so they could help their clients transition to a low-carbon future. The response was massive. NAB trained 200 staff the first year, and had to cap the number of applicants.
"We recognised it wasn’t a lack of interest from our staff," Michael says, "it was a lack of technical knowledge about climate. There was this huge appetite from NAB people to learn more – from tech and legal to operations and credit. It’s no longer activists in the corner demanding action on climate, it’s everyday bank employees, working within the system to make quiet but substantial change."
Jarrod Troutbeck, Bank Australia
Bank Australia is the only bank in the world with its own conservation reserve, and it’s Jarrod Troutbeck’s job to help it grow.
"I’m the bank’s Manager of Sustainability," he says. "It’s my job to roll out our Force for Good strategy. And part of that is looking after the Reserve. Originally, it was a way for the bank to sequester carbon, but it pivoted a few years ago to be more about biodiversity. Now it’s changed again to have a strong focus on reconciliation and strengthening our relationships with First Nations people."
“People scratch their heads when you say you care about economics and climate, but there’s economics in everything, whether we like it or not."
After getting his undergrad in economics, Jarrod worked for the Victorian state government as an economist, along with a few years in the not-for-profit sector. While working at Treasury, he topped things off with a Masters of Environment. "It was a natural fit for me,” he says. “People scratch their heads when you say you care about economics and climate, but there’s economics in everything, whether we like it or not."
Bank Australia’s Reserve is a collection of three properties outside Horsham in western Victoria. It grew to 2117 hectares last year and is now home to 225 native plants and 234 native animal species. Jarrod works closely with the Traditional Custodians of the land, the Barengi Gadjin Land Council, to help grow the reserve and protect the land.
"We’re doing great things, but there’s no money in it," he says, "and that’s okay for Bank Australia. We want to get other corporates to step up and start caring for Country, collaborating with First Nations knowledge holders, but we know there needs to be more to get them over the line. That’s our next step: demonstrating the value of all this work."
Ready to take the next step? Join the WorkForClimate Academy, our new 10-week cohort program designed to help you take significant climate action in your workplace. Full details and registration information here.