The UN estimates that achieving its 17 Sustainable Development Goals will require an annual investment of $5-7trn across all sectors. It’s a vast sum, but one the world’s financial markets do have access to. Having recognised the importance of achieving the UN’s goals, many financial institutions are now developing sustainable finance tools with which to mobilise their funds.

Through its Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), the UN supports these forward-thinking institutions. The platform helps banks, insurers and investors scale up their efforts and promote sustainable financing on an international level. It also facilitates collaboration across the sector and promotes adherence to the UNEP FI’s six Principles of Responsible Banking. These principles provide the banking industry with a single framework for its sustainable development, in line with the Paris Agreement.

The private sector represents an influential part of any economy and should therefore play a significant role in its development

A sense of urgency
Of course, public funding is integral to the advancement of sustainability efforts, but governments and non-governmental organisations alone cannot cover the costs of such wide-reaching change. The private sector represents an influential part of any economy and should therefore play a significant role in its development.

Historically, though, banks have not been on the front line of sustainability initiatives. However, the sector cannot continue to finance projects that are at odds with the UN’s goals. Access Bank recognises that sustainable growth is not only urgent, but also brings benefits to its stakeholders. This is why we will continue to contribute to Nigeria’s sustainability efforts.

In 2012, the Central Bank of Nigeria launched the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles. The compulsory guidelines require banks to mitigate the environmental and social risks of their business activities.

Even before these principles were launched, though, Access Bank had rooted its corporate identity in sustainability. As key stakeholders in the economic sustainability effort, we believe it is important that the services offered by financial institutions cater to the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises that have long served as drivers of the Nigerian economy.

Sustainable development is so important to Access Bank’s identity that it dedicates one percent of its profits before tax to sustainability projects and partnerships

The bank has exhibited this belief through several laudable initiatives. For example, it hosts a cloud-based applications management platform that provides information on how to acquire grants, helps funding bodies to manage grants and applications, and allows institutions to share information and collaborate. Access Bank also recently held its first Womenpreneur Pitch-A-Ton, which received thousands of applications from highly skilled business owners.

Participating in change
Sustainable development is so important to the bank’s identity that it dedicates one percent of its profits before tax to sustainability projects and partnerships. A trained sustainability unit, headed by top management staff, oversees these initiatives.

Our employees are given many opportunities to participate in environmentally friendly nation-building programmes throughout the year. One of the most engaging ways employees do this is through our Employee Volunteering Scheme, which gives staff the chance to work on impactful social projects from start to finish. Through this scheme, our sustainability unit guides employees in supporting a cause of their choice and partnering with beneficiaries to shape the project.

Alongside the Employee Volunteering Scheme, dedicated members of staff are inducted into the Sustainability Champions Network. There are currently more than 1,700 Sustainability Champions at the bank, working to ensure they have a positive impact on society.

In terms of environmental impact, the bank recently issued Africa’s first Corporate Bonds Initiative-certified green bond – a NGN 15bn ($41.48m) bond that will be used to support climate-friendly projects. It also provides a viable asset class for environmentally friendly investors, helping them reduce their carbon emissions and find opportunities in the fast-developing low-carbon economy.

Access Bank will continue to prioritise environmental, social and governance considerations within all its decision-making processes. Starting at the executive level, commitment to sustainability is expressed throughout the company. It is a value that lies at the heart of every activity and project undertaken by the bank.

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