Low Carbon Employee Behavioural Change in the Financial Services Sector

Transferring European Learnings to the Asia Region

Over the past decade, Europe (and in particular the UK and Germany), has blazed a path towards building a low carbon economy. The US continues to debate the existence of man-made climate change, whilst economic shooting stars such as South America and Africa are not developed enough for any kind of joined up approach to reducing carbon emissions.

While the Euro Zone is grappling with sovereign debt and the US economic outlook remains uncertain, the one place where economic growth and financial stability are more the norm than the exception is Asia. Under the leadership and economic growth of China and to a different extent India, the region has developed tremendous strength, a workable infrastructure and structures to sustain the growth curve – at least for the time being. Asia is now the growth engine of the world economy, a very different scenario to what people expected ten or twenty years ago.

Asia is now at the critical stage where processes and frameworks for the future need to be shaped, preferably avoiding previous mistakes. Any such structure will need to have a low carbon economy at the very heart of future sustainable growth scenarios should we wish to stand a chance to accommodate over 9 billion people on the planet by 2050.

Positive efforts taking place but not in all sectors

The good news is that sourcing, manufacturing and supply chains across Asia are moving towards a more responsible approach to carbon, energy, water and resource management; progress is happening despite some early (mainly cultural) learnings.

The real estate sector is starting to look into building efficiency more seriously, although more stringent legislation – as has been announced in the past week in Singapore – would certainly help accelerate momentum for existing buildings.

The one sector that one would expect to be out front leading by example is the finance sector. No doubt, there are encouraging efforts that deserve support from a number of banks and institutions but there is equally a degree of green wash today; going forward, more walking than talking will be needed.

79% of employees are willing to support their employer to reduce carbon emissions

Banks and financial institutions represent the role model for large, mostly international (if not global) office based operations with thousands of employees. As employers, they have a responsibility for the welfare of their work force not only from a material point of view but also for their education and guiding them into the future.

A recent Kleef&Co survey established that employees want to see action, but that it is not happening yet. When asked whether their employer had an active programme to reduce carbon emissions in place, only 14% replied affirmatively. Furthermore, only 18% said “yes” to the question “Is your employer doing enough to reduce carbon emissions?”.

This is in stark contrast to the 79% of employees who said they are willing to help their employer actively cut carbon emissions.

What does leading the change look like?

From the above data points, it would seem timely to capture this momentum and willingness to change the way we operate. We need to start by establishing a culture of change that defines the core values for the future and aligns with the perception of a moral imperative: to preserve our planet for future generations.

If banks and other financial institutions were to credibly embrace building environmental credentials, it could improve the whole landscape of how employees see their employer and how they identify with them. The financial sector has the unique opportunity to change the culture of its people through clearly defined and transparent employee engagement programmes, behavioural change disciplines and bespoke roll-out programmes (all of which have been done before).

Whilst these efforts would also result in hard savings around energy consumption, waste and other operational costs, it will achieve something much greater: banks will be seen as responsible corporate citizens who have a positive impact on their workforce and future generations.

Besides the impact on the work force and motivational levels, banks would also gain tremendously by being perceived as champions of innovation by their customers, NGOs would interact on a whole new level with them and even Governments would appreciate and benefit from such a paradigm shift. The last thing the finance sector brought the world was the financial crisis of 2008/9 and it is still not done with sovereign debt issues across across Europe.

How about the banks taking the lead in the transition to a low carbon Asian economy, supported by the strong economic growth in the region?

In a series of upcoming articles, we will share insights derived from our work with leading European financial services firms that can help point the way for the finance sector here in the Asia region.

Jochen Kleef
Chairman, Ecopoint www.ecopoint.asia
Founder & CEO, Kleef & Co www.kleef.asia

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