Supporting the SDGs through integration into business policy
Since the UmweltBank was founded, environmental protection has been a major objective of its corporate strategy. However, sustainability as a broader concept was not firmly defined at the end of the 1990s and was (and still is) subject to constant change. With the SDGs, a common concept of sustainability - on which all 200 member states of the United Nations were able to agree - emerged for the first time in 2015. For our executive board, the time had come to make specific SDGs the core of our business policy and to align business activities even more distinctively according to the SDGs.
The aim of the practice is to fully align the company’s business activities with the SDGs. Furthermore, indicators should be created and implemented in order to make the company's impact on SDGs measurable. The SDG indicators make the contribution to target achievement quantitively measurable.
The SDGs are the key component in this transformation process as the practice is fully dedicated to the SDGs. By being able to measure the SDGs within our business context, continuous improvement of the contribution to the fulfilment of the goals should be focused.
In 2016 the UmweltBank decided to start its sustainable transformation process using a concept developed by Professor Dr. Harald Bolsinger (University of applied sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt, FHWS). He is also a member of the environmental council, an independent council that advises UmweltBank in sustainability affairs. His concept called “Road to Sustainability” serves to implement the SDGs in medium-sized companies. The whole process is divided into eight steps: In a first step sustainability should be embedded into the corporate culture. Secondly, sustainability expertise is strengthened in order to gain deeper knowledge regarding the SDGs and their implementation. With the help of the environmental council several workshops and analyses with multiple stakeholders were conducted. This step was followed by the development of potential and setting priorities: all SDGs were analyzed regarding the status quo, possible constraints and value contribution to the bank’s core business. In a strategy conference, the management board together with the environmental council conducted a materiality analysis. In doing so, they selected the sustainability goals for which the bank can make a substantial contribution to improvement. UmweltBank is committed to all 17 United Nations SDGs but is focused in its core business to goals 7, 11 and 13. In addition, goals 5 and 12 receive special attention in internal business operations. Subsequently, a project group for each prioritized SDG was created consisting of employees from different departments. The following steps consisted of the development of targets and measurable indicators, the implementation into the existing organizational structure and culture and the alignment of the sustainability report with the SDGs. The eighth step advises to extend the communication regarding the SDGs and the implementation process, also in order to let others benefit from the practice.
As part of the 2018 Annual General Meeting over 99 % of the shareholders voted for the inclusion of the SDGs in the company statutes. UmweltBank is the first financial institution in Germany which has anchored the SDGs in its statutes. The created SDG groups promote a long-term integration of the SDGs into the corporate strategy and have defined concrete indicators and target figures. The board evaluates these on an ongoing basis with the environmental council and adjusts where necessary. One indicator for SDG 11 is, for example, the social housing created and the number of people who find an affordable home as a result. These groups also serve as incubators for new ideas to better measure or increase the contribution to the SDGs in the context of business operations. An example for a change project is the development of treasury management rules based on verifiable SDG performance. Through the implementation process, the SDGs became part of the bank's identity.
A key factor was the support of the executive board which facilitated the implementation process. The employees were keen to be involved in the process and contribute their ideas; additionally, external stakeholders were eager to engage in the transformation process. The environmental council supported the process with its extensive sustainability knowledge. As the SDGs were chosen and prioritized according to their value contribution to the core business activities, a long-term pursuit of the SDGs is ensured. With the help of the SDG groups the current impact on the SDGs is permanently monitored.
As the SDG groups and the sustainability manager are in constant contact with the management board and the environmental council, an ongoing reflection and improvement regarding the SDG contribution is ensured. Active participation in the SDG groups keeps employees motivated and eager to pursue the goals. The practice is replicable especially but not only for medium-sized companies as the concept “Road to sustainability” gives instructions on how a successful implementation of the SDGs can look like. It is important to mention that the implementation of the SDGs is not a closed practice but a continuous process of improvement. During the implementation process UmweltBank became a member of the GABV in order to collaborate with other sustainable banks worldwide and work towards a more sustainable finance sector. There is a German language case study for free use available on www.wirtschaftsethik.biz/umweltbank - this case study is planned to be translated into English until end of 2021.
Due to COVID-19, home office arrangements were introduced, and personal meetings are cancelled which is why the SDG groups organized online meetings and telephone conferences. Unfortunately, there has been a delay in implementation of certain projects; nevertheless, they are not cancelled and still being pursued.
SDGS & Targets
Deliverables & Timeline
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