Sustainability can mean many things. Most of the time it means environmental sustainability, other times you are talking about social sustainability, and lastly you have economic sustainability. The important thing to remember is that the three are interconnected and depend on one another. This is a realization that is slowly dawning on many companies.
As the world plummeted into global recession in 2008, one of the most controversial events that followed was the bank bailouts that took place all over the globe. Because of something that became known as systemic institutions, some banks were considered so big that they simply could not be allowed to fail, since they would take a large part of society with them.
As a number of the largest banks in the world needed taxpayers’ money to survive, people began to ask themselves, how can banks develop a more sustainable business model?
So while large commercial banks were either nationalized, put into administration or were forced to ask their shareholders and governments for money to make up for their losses, one bank showed that one way to make a bank economically sustainable is to make it environmentally and socially sustainable.
This bank was Europe’s biggest social bank, Triodos Bank. During the midst of the crisis, Triodos Bank experienced renewed growth and an unprecedented interest in its sustainable approach to banking. An approach which builds on financing companies, institutions and projects that add cultural value and benefit people and the environment with the support of depositors and investors who want a sustainable society.
The bank has, in fact, generated continuous growth of 25% annually over the past two decades with assets under management of almost $5 billion: it has close to 200 000 customers and almost 10 000 sustainable businesses and projects in its loan book.
Our growth is faster than foreseen; we continue to thrive despite the financial crisis, and have no shortfall of capital. This year we have grown faster than ever before, with more than an 18% increase in our customer numbers since January 2009. If nothing else, the financial crisis has taught us that it pays to choose sustainable, says Triodos Bank’s CEO, Peter Blom.
Troidos has shown how financial institutions can be operationally sound by focusing on sustainability, transparence, and diligence. But what can we learn from them?
‘We believe […] that genuinely understanding our clients, their business and the markets they work in, or being open and transparent about how we use our saver’s money is key to a sustainable financial sector. We are dedicated to financing positive change. We have built a track record financing organisations that work in the nature and the environment, social business and culture and welfare sectors; because we believe that their success will lead to a sustainable economy that’s better for people, the environment we share, and culture.’
Triodos has shown that by conducting your business slowly and responsibly, you can severly decrease the risk of your investment opportunities. But most of all, Triodos has shown the need for longer-term perspectives and that the best business opportunities may not be where we think they are.
The New Pioneers are this century’s generation of new leaders, social entrepreneurs, and social innovators that are turning global challenges into new business opportunities and sustainable ways of creating value.
Our Case of the Month features New Pioneers that are creating new hybrids of doing business and solving society’s problems. They are showing old world companies and organizations how to tackle new world challenges for the benefit of both humanity and the bottom-line.