Reducing a bank’s emissions to net zero is a huge undertaking but doing it by 2035 is an even bigger ask. When considering the scale of changes required to reach such a target, one thing is clear: everyone involved in the organisation will need to be onboard.
“It's something that's going to have to touch every part of our organisation to be successful,” says Jane Kern, Head of Impact at Bank Australia, a customer-owned, Certified B Corporation with a target to reach net zero by 2035.
Jane explains that 2035 – while ambitious – is absolutely necessary when reviewing the data.
“Science tells us that 2050 is too late. Deep cuts to emissions this decade are essential if we want to have a chance of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees and having a safe climate. Organisations like the Climate Council are proposing net zero by 2035 as a target that Australia needs to aim for,” she says.
"Climate change consistently comes out as the top priority for our customers. They've got high expectations of what they'd like to see us do and delivering that was an important part of choosing the 2035 target date.”
Customer expectations are also driving the push to net zero. As a customer-owned bank, each customer has one Bank Australia share – as well as a say in how the bank operates.
“We engage regularly with our customers about which issues are important to them, and how they would like the bank to act on those issues. Climate change consistently comes out as the top priority for our customers. They've got high expectations of what they'd like to see us do and delivering that was an important part of choosing the 2035 target date,” says Jane.
Many hands make light work
Bank Australia’s staff are critical to reaching the lofty target, with a climate action steering committee acting as the driving force behind the bank’s push to hit net zero by 2035. Comprised of team members from across the bank whose roles range from finance to data, through to product, lending, and operations, committee members are a diverse group of people united by their desire to act against climate change.
“We're keen to connect with staff right across the bank. We've been bringing people in from all over the business because you never know where the best ideas are going to come from,” says Jane.
In 2019, the bank became the first bank in Australia to switch to 100% renewable electricity. Having reduced its own emissions, the bank is now focusing on the homes it funds. This is where frontline staff have a significant role to play.
To support more customers to reduce their household emissions, Bank Australia offers a Clean Energy Home Loan (a green mortgage product that rewards customers for buying or building a green home or making green upgrades to their home). But it’s up to branch and call centre staff to have conversations with customers about the personal (and planetary) benefits of these products.
Building a regenerative future
Another piece of the puzzle is supporting staff to reduce their own emissions, whether they’re working from home, in the head office or at a bank branch.
“We've just moved into a new head office and the upgrade to the end-of-trip facilities is phenomenal. There's great bike parking, places to charge your e-bike and lovely showers,” Jane says, before adding that having good public transport access was a decisive factor when choosing a location for the new head office.
“... so many people want to work for an organisation that aligns with their values these days.”
While the bank’s commitment to sustainability is a selling point for customers, it’s also a magnet for attracting staff. New team members frequently report that they’re excited about joining a team that’s making a positive difference within the banking sector.
“We're certainly seeing a lot of staff telling us that they're joining because of our responsible banking credentials. I think so many people want to work for an organisation that aligns with their values these days,” says Jane.
Beyond reducing emissions, the bank supports sustainability in many other ways, including offering regenerative products and services, supporting First National leadership and investing in projects that boost biodiversity and draw down carbon.
“We've done a lot of work over the last decade reducing emissions in our own operations by switching to 100% renewable electricity, but ultimately, we want to focus on building a regenerative future,” says Jane.
Nature conservation is a key part of creating a regenerative future. As the only bank in the world with a conservation reserve, Bank Australia (and its customers) collectively own a 2117-hectare reserve in Western Victoria protected by a Trust for Nature covenant.
Bank Australia staff have travelled to the reserve to see the scale of the project for themselves and connect with staff from Greening Australia and Trust for Nature (which manage the land on a day-to-day basis) as well as the Traditional Owners, Barengi Gadjin Land Council.
Even though reaching net zero by 2035 is a huge undertaking, Bank Australia’s chances of success lie within its ability to harness the collective strengths of its staff and customers. With a wide range of highly invested people contributing their ideas, energy and influence, net zero seems less like an insurmountable challenge and more like a future reality.
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