Sustainability in the heart of the customer and of the bank

Customers must benefit personally from sustainability. Customers and Rabobank are increasingly becoming partners in sustainable housing or business. 'The drive towards sustainability is at the heart of our service provision', says Bas Rüter, Director of Sustainability at Rabobank.

'Smart Refurbishment' events for homeowners and contractors, collaboration between entrepreneurs to limit waste flows and encourage reuse, making international food chains more sustainable. These are just some of the many sustainability initiatives for Rabobank customers. 'Sustainability is core business. We finance it with the funds held by our savers and investors. The risks we take when providing funding usually relate to sustainable development for our customers. Being engaged in sustainability presents opportunities and helps to manage risks', says Rüter.

'Sustainability is now at the heart of our service provision', he adds. Rabobank has been fully committed to the introduction of 'Sustainably successful together' both in the Netherlands and abroad since early 2015. The customer's situation must improve as a result of this. This is the core of Rabobank's international sustainability strategy until 2020. Rabobank's service provision must focus on this, whether the service concerns financial solutions, advice or network contacts.

More comfortable living and lower energy use

Both our customers and Rabobank are making progress on energy conservation in homes. Many of Rabobank's private customers in the Netherlands are owner-occupiers. This year local Rabobanks in the Netherlands will organise few tens of 'Smart Refurbishment' events at which homeowners, financial advisors of Rabobank, local contractors and energy experts come together. Homeowners find out how they can make their homes more sustainable, how this can be funded and which local contractors and suppliers can play a role in this. Rüter: 'According to the bank, these events are attended by between 150 and 300 people. It is a success: suppliers and contractors come away with real assignments. Homeowners can make their homes more comfortable, will use less energy and therefore reduce their CO2 emissions. Another point is that homes with a better energy label are easier to sell.'

Benefit from limiting waste flows

Business customers also enjoy direct and practical benefits. Not only in relation to energy conservation, but also taking a new look at the reuse of materials and limiting waste flows. Last year, Rabobank organised the national Circular Economy Challenge in the Netherlands for this purpose. Learning of the challenge: companies looking to move into circular business operation with the highest possible re-use of materials, have to cope with a raft of practical issues. This national exploration will now be followed by fifteen regional studies to establish how businesses in the region can collectively limit waste flows and reuse materials. Rüter: 'We bring business customers, our account managers and external experts in the field of circular enterprise together. Rabobank has a large market share in the business sector and thus we have a huge network that we can use.'

Integration into business plans

More sustainability in business operations is also an agenda item for customers in agriculture and the food industry. Rüter: 'We are prioritising improving the sustainability of ten large production chains in which we have many customers. These include beef, coffee, palm oil, fish and dairy products. We are currently engaged with eight international round tables involving many stakeholders, and outline how production can be achieved with less negative effect on the environment, people and animals. As Rabobank, we bring in our expertise and strive to translate the results of the round tables to our customers so that they can include the drive towards sustainability in their business plans.'

'We want to be an engagement bank, solving issues in cooperation with our customers.'

Bas Rüter, Director of Sustainability at Rabobank.

Policeman or partner

Rüter is enthusiastic about this movement, although in his opinion progress is never fast enough. He feels this to be a dilemma. 'The public wants us to act as a policeman towards our customers. There are some stakeholders who want us to force our business customers to reduce CO2 emissions by x percent every year, but this is not a role that suits us. When we accept a customer, we check that they meet our minimum standards. In this respect, we are a sort of policeman. After acceptance the customer has to continue to meet the minimum standards, but we see our role mainly as a partner that can help the customer look at ways to operate more intelligently and more sustainably. So we have started with sustainability photos that enable us to chart the customer's sustainability performance on a regular basis and use this to discuss with the customer how he can operate better and smarter. This is good for the customer and good for society. We want to be an engagement bank, solving issues in cooperation with our customers. A profitable business for the customer and a bank that has a positive effect for society is the best of both worlds.'