How do you get senior management buy-in for a commitment to environmental sustainability and carbon neutrality? By hitting executives where it hurts – in the back pocket. That’s the approach that’s been taken by HSBC, where environmental sustainability objectives
have been linked to bonus payments in the board room.
The global banking giant has come a long way since it was pilloried on the front page of a leading UK broadsheet in 2004 for irresponsible lending around palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.
“That was a major wake-up call for the bank and its management,” recalled Matthew Robinson, head of the group sustainable advisory team at HSBC, who keynoted at Finextra’s Green City conference in London yesterday.
Matthew peppered his presentation with an impressive list of facts and stats underlining the bank’s commitment to responsible lending and environmentally-friendly business practices. The speech was backed up by a comprehensive slide deck, including a reproduction
of the original 2004 article which featured a caricature of a fat cat wielding a chainsaw with the HSBC logo emblazoned across the blade.
Other choice slides included a shot of a greenfield branch in New York – claimed by the bank to be the first carbon netural branch in the US – comprehensively equipped with all the usual green gadgetry, such as geothermal heat pumps, roof-mounted photovoltaic
panels, rainwater harvesting and intelligent lighting. The large gas-guzzling SUV parked in front of the branch by one of the bank’s less environmentally-committed customers had, thankfully, been airbrushed out, Matthew told the room.
The talk finished with another, more recent, front-page news splash bearing the headline: “Canary Wharf at midnight. So which bright spark left all the lights on?”
Not good practice for a bank that likes to embellish its environmental credentials. Only this time the issue had the full attention of an incentivised senior management. “When the chairman knocks on the facilities manager’s door, things get done,” noted
HSBC requested that we not publish Matthew's slides online, although the presentations from other speakers and panelists on the day are now available for download from the