Securing a sustainable future

Intesa Sanpaolo is widely recognised as one of the most sustainable companies in the world. Elena Flor, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, tells Sophy Buckley what it has been doing to achieve such status

Sophy Buckley


In a climate of dwindling resources, everyone must do more with less. Intesa Sanpaolo’s efforts have recently won it a place among the world’s top 20 most sustainable companies.

The award, announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2017, was bestowed by Corporate Knights, which reviewed some 5,000 firms before selecting its winners.

In making its assessments, the Canadian magazine focused on corporate policy on environmental protection, sustainable development, wages, innovation and transparency.

The award highlights the important work that Intesa Sanpaolo has been doing for years, marking it out as a pioneer and leader in sustainability. But according to Elena Flor, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, the Italian bank isn’t in it for the applause.

“Our commitment towards the sustainability of our business is always a compass when deciding who to work with and where”

“A successful business is based on trust and valuable long-term relationships with its customers, staff and the community. So it’s our responsibility always to behave in a way that creates value for all stakeholders – not just shareholders.” For her, business has to create a virtuous circle. “It’s in our interests to meet their interests.”

“The problem with defining sustainability is that it encompasses so much,” she says. “There’s business ethics, risk management, compliance with anti-money laundering, cyber and data protection, community support, equality, environment – all factors in being a sustainable company, consistent with the values and principles stated in its Code of Ethics and the improvement objectives published every year in the Sustainability Report.

When it comes to climate change, the bank takes a down-to-earth attitude. Risks such as that of flooding can affect its customers as well as its business activities, so it is vital to help protect them – be they savers or mortgage holders – from damage. “In this way, it’s practical for us to want to minimise risks through focused projects and initiatives,” says Flor.

One of the upshots is that it has embraced investing in green energy. In 2015, it supplied 3 per cent of the financial support for environmentally-friendly projects, and between 2007 and 2014, it contributed €11bn of the €27bn distributed by the entire Italian banking sector to green energy investments.

But it’s not just on green energy that the bank takes a stand. It also looks for projects that help cut waste and make business more efficient.

Intesa Sanpaolo uses statistical modelling to help it decide where to concentrate its efforts. A ‘materiality matrix’ plots the importance of issues for the bank against those of its stakeholders. The top scores receive the most focus.

“It’s scientific, qualitative and updated annually. Climate change has really moved up the agenda in the past year or so. Possibly because of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris,” she says.

Measuring success is less scientific, however.
Flor explains that traditional return on investment calculations don’t work because often there are multiple organisations involved in a project, making it difficult to quantify Intesa Sanpaolo’s share.

Instead, she relies on reports from the projects themselves. “Many of the programmes are audited and we always examine the outputs. They might show how CO2 emissions have fallen for an energy-efficiency programme, or how the numbers of children in primary school have increased.”

Closer to home, Intesa Sanpaolo is keen to make sure its staff are engaged in its sustainability commitment. “A few years ago, as part of the 2014-17 Business Plan, we identified some 4,500 employees as surplus to requirement. Rather than make those people redundant, we decided to retrain them for other roles within the group,” she says.

The bank allocated 5 million training days over four years – completing 1.2 million in 2014, the first year; 1.3 million in 2015; and 1.3 million in 2016. The balance will be taken up by the end of this year.

Many of the bank’s initiatives take place on a global stage and it is signed up to international programmes including the UN Global Compact, UNEP Finance Initiative, CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) and the Equator Principles.

“We have a set of policies, which we are developing further, that set out what we will and won’t get involved in. For example, our arms policy places a total ban on controversial weapons such as landmines, cluster bombs and, of course, nuclear. We won’t be a party to such deals,” she says.

The bank has spent €56.7m in 2015 on community projects, including €85,000 to an initiative to feed the needy in Milan, €160,000 on logistics for the distribution of food to the disadvantaged and €150,000 to emergency food agencies. In Egypt, it helped 7,500 people eat a more balanced diet, by means of a €101,500 grant, and gave €50,000 to help 160 children from the Roma community go to school in Naples.

Besides having a positive impact around the world, the bank’s efforts have been recognised in a slew of awards and accolades. These include membership of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices and places in the FTSE4Good Global and FTSE4Good Europe indices as well as on the 2016 CDP “A list”.

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