On Monday, December 7, Bank Windhoek Holdings (BWH) – a subsidiary of Capricorn Investment Holdings (CIH) – released its first comprehensive Sustainability Report. Herewith follows an extract of an interview with Bank Windhoek managing director Christo de Vries, as contained in the report.
Q: Capricorn Investment Holdings (CIH) vision is to create sustainable value for all stakeholders. What is the role of BWH in achieving that goal?
BWH’s success and survival depends on the wellbeing of the society and the health of the environment we operate in. As a financial services group, we have positive and maybe, sometimes, also unintended negative impacts on the local community through our operations in the normal course of business. Successful businesses are responsive to the broader needs of the societies in which they operate. That means we need to increase our positive impacts and reduce our negative ones.
Q: How are you implementing sustainability?
Sustainability was identified as a key strategic theme during the development of the group’s competitive strategy in 2014. Since then, BWH has developed a comprehensive sustainability and reporting framework that will guide the integration of environmental, social and economic dimensions into our everyday operating practices. To gain some momentum we conducted an energy and water efficiency audit in our three main buildings in Windhoek in May 2015 to start reducing our environmental footprint in the short to medium term. We have recently also initiated the development of an environmental and social management strategy for Bank Windhoek’s Credit Division, to identify and manage environmental and social risks and impacts in relation to lending products and services provided to our clients.
Q: What is the benefit of sustainability?
For me, sustainability is to distinguish between profit as one of quantity or one of quality. A company with embedded sustainability principles and a framework is able to not just look at the past and what has occurred during the year that has been. Such a company can also change the focus to the future, addressing issues and setting up sustainable targets, not only from an economic perspective but also socially, environmentally and strategically. So, sustainability is about managing social and environmental risks, and creating opportunities and enhancing our reputation.
Q: Is sustainability an immediate issue today in any of our entities?
I am often confronted with the argument that BWH, as a financial institution, does not have a large carbon footprint as it trades in assets. So why then should sustainability be a priority for us?
It is a priority for Bank Windhoek because the bank provides loans, grants and banking to companies and individuals that might have large carbon footprints and ineffective sustainability practices.
Therefore, we need to be careful not to contribute indirectly to unsustainable practices in Namibia and also at the same time be ready to positively influence these companies and individuals.
It is also relevant to Welwitschia Insurance Brokers, because insurance providers and brokers are of the most exposed companies to, for example, climate change, given the damage and loss associated with events such as droughts, floods, etc.
Q: Describe how you go about infusing a sustainable way of thinking into the company.
It is always tempting to make sustainability a compliance issue and adhere only to the lowest environmental or social standards for as long as possible. However, our philosophy is to look at the issue of sustainability strategically and to adopt the most relevant practices. The role of leadership is crucial in accomplishing our sustainability vision. Our challenge is to develop a culture in which both leadership and employees hold shared assumptions and beliefs about the importance of balancing economic efficiency, social equity and environmental accountability. To achieve this, our commitment to social and environmental concerns must be communicated consistently, both in words and in actions.
The shared beliefs have to be supported by a formal performance management system. We took the approach to assign ownership of our key sustainability focus areas to a number of executives within BWH, rather than one department. We identified specific sustainability indicators and developed measurable targets for each area. Most importantly, I believe that ‘charity begins at home’. One of our most important stakeholders to consider is our employees.
The success of implementing sustainability is closely aligned to levels of motivation, which we aim to increase through the development of a unique value proposition for all employees.