Awards for Excellence 2019
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While some banks lean towards solving either social or environmental challenges, BNP Paribas sees the two as inextricably linked.
Through the bank’s work in the community, as well as its internal policies and product development across all business lines, BNP Paribas is aligning the entire group to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It wins this year’s award for the world’s best bank for corporate responsibility.
Should there be any doubt that corporate responsibility is core for BNP Paribas, the bank recently explained how the compensation of chief executive Jean-Laurent Bonnafé would be linked to key CR targets. Its commitment begins with internal policies. BNP Paribas has been carbon neutral since 2017 and has a zero net deforestation commitment by 2020.
It no longer invests in tobacco and this year tightened its coal financing policies. In May, BNPP announced, for example, that it would no longer finance electricity producers in Poland because of their dependence on the coal industry.
In the community, BNP Paribas’ initiatives work to have long-term social and environmental impacts. In north Senegal, the bank has partnered with the UN to help 30,000 women left to farm land severely impacted by global warming, after the men left to find work elsewhere.
BNPP’s project with the UN provided training to the female micro farmers on new farming techniques and how to select the right seed and fertilizers.
The women farmers were so successful that the men returned and tried to reclaim the land. BNP Paribas with UN Women created a programme to ensure that the Senegalese women maintain their land rights and have full financial autonomy.
Also in Africa, the bank has a programme with the Gates Foundation to train scientists, half of whom will be women, to help villages in countries affected by global warming understand the changes they will need to make.
In its domestic market, France, the bank is tackling the challenge of a growing wealth gap, bringing together 20 key associations into the same office space in Paris.
The groups will focus on equal opportunities in metro Paris. If the model is successful, it will be replicated in other French cities and other countries. BNPP also allows its employees to have an impact in local communities.
“By 2020 we will offer one million hours of volunteering to associations on an annual basis, focusing on young people, social businesses and local engagement,” says Antoine Sire, director of company engagement. The bank is creating a digital tool to monitor the work done.
Conservation is also important for BNPP: it has announced it will be making several commitments in the field of biodiversity. In early 2019, the bank dedicated €6 million to a climate and biodiversity initiative programme that supports eight scientific research projects until 2022.
In October last year, BNP Paribas UK signed up for the United for Wildlife Financial Taskforce, chaired by the Duke of Cambridge.
BNPP also partnered with the #act4nature movement launched by the French Enterprises for the Environment association to promote biodiversity. Bonnafé is the chair.
“Because we are financing shipping, fisheries and infrastructure, we want to encourage clients to adopt best practices,” says Laurence Pessez, head of corporate social responsibility.
If we want to have a positive impact through the way we are financing the economy, then we have to rally as many banks as possible- Laurence Pessez
In the same vein of promoting industry change, the bank is also a member of the UN Principles for Responsible Banking.
“If we want to have a positive impact through the way we are financing the economy, then we have to rally as many banks as possible,” says Pessez.
BNPP has been active in microfinance for 30 years.
Last year it financed €1.6 billion for microfinance institutions (MFIs) and social enterprises. Over 358,000 micro-borrowers benefited in 17 countries, and the bank will increase the amount by 10% every year.
As part of that commitment, BNPP signed an investment agreement last October to strengthen specialized MFIs in Europe, including a €1 million investment in the Helenos Fund, whose mission is to contribute to reducing unemployment and social exclusion through micro-entrepreneurship across Europe.
In the US, BNPP also provides direct financing for Grameen America through the group’s subsidiary, Bank of the West, fostering women’s entrepreneurship in New York and California and aiming to create more than 12,000 women-run businesses and nearly 22,000 jobs.
BNPP also teamed up with the Grameen Creative Lab this year to help build social businesses.
On the business side, the bank is also ensuring that it is supporting clients similarly committed to the SDGs. Last November, it launched ClimateSeed, a voluntary carbon offsetting platform to help connect investors with tangible projects to cut carbon emissions.
In capital markets the bank has been central in growing the social impact bond market and is among the top five banks in sustainable bond league tables.
And in March BNP Paribas Asset Management launched a strategy to enhance and accelerate commitment to sustainable investment.