Banking on sustainability, and BPI

Published June 26, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


It’s highly probable that sustainability is the most overused and misunderstood word today. It’s popularity, and how it’s constantly name-dropped, are beyond question; but I’ve often wondered how many versions of sustainability are simultaneously playing in the general public’s consciousness. And believe me, I’m not even going to claim I’m some expert, or can diagnose exactly why all the confusion over what seems to be a simple enough word. But I would venture to say that some of the confusion stems from how many of those using the word don’t distinguish between ‘sustainable’, and ‘Sustainable’ as clearly defined within the concept of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

For the small ‘s’ sustainable, we’re simply talking about something that can be continued, or a practice that maintains a condition, without harming the environment. An example would be the practice of reduce, reuse, and recycle; and from here, we’ve developed sustainable agriculture, and can talk of sustainable growth.

And then, there’s the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as adapted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, that provides a shared blueprint for people and the planet, now and into the future. These 17 Sustainable Development Goals address the global challenges we all face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. It’s from these SDG that ESG agendas were formulated, so that the environment agenda, the social agenda, and a governance agenda could form the framework of any company’s or institution’s response to espousing SDG’s.

But what I feel has happened is that so many merely equate being eco-friendly or ‘green’ to ‘Sustainable,’ when as you can glean, being eco-friendly is really only one aspect of Sustainability. The social aspect can include moving to eradicate poverty, promoting inclusivity, and stamping out gender discrimination.

Governance is about compliance, being responsible to your employees, stakeholders, investors, and so on – like just recently, we read about how several publicly listed companies were suspended from the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) for non-compliance with the submission of certain documents. This for me, would be a governance issue.

BPI President and CEO Jose Teodoro K. Limcaoco.

And that’s why I highly commend the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) for embarking on a series of activities this month, along with various local and international institutions, to establish the Philippines’ first Sustainability Awareness Month. As BPI President and CEO, Jose Teodoro Limcaoco announced, “With four decades of following the principles of people, planet, and profit since the 1980’s, BPI is in a good position to help jumpstart the country’s maiden, month-long Sustainability campaign via a Sustainability Awareness Month, or SAM, which we intend to become an annual Philippine tradition.”

“Through this month-long campaign, we can help Filipinos realize that the Philippines is among the most vulnerable in the world when it comes to natural disasters such as typhoons, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. More importantly, we aim to discuss how companies, communities, and citizens can collectively help tackle the problem of climate change.”

Artist’s perspective of the soon-to-rise BPI head office, a structure built on Sustainability.

Importantly, BPI went on to say that sustainability does not stop at encouraging recycling or minimizing consumption of single-use plastics. Just as crucial is providing opportunities for financial wellness to individuals, communities, and businesses from different economic backgrounds, as well as financing geared towards a greener economy and resilient society.

Already, a good number of the bank’s sustainability efforts have centered on green financing covering big to small projects related to energy efficiency, to renewable Energy, and Climate Resilience, including (but not limited to) Green Buildings and Sustainable Agriculture. Small businesses, and self-employed micro-entrepreneurs, as well as overseas Filipinos are also supported via savings, financial responsibility, investing, and preparing for a financially secure future.

Touching on the concept of ESG, Limcaoco believes in achieving sustainability by creating shared value for its BPI stakeholders that include clients and shareholders, employees and their communities. And that the faster we all transition to a sustainable lifestyle and habits, the faster we can see economic returns – with the corollary that environmental, social and governance-related projects are key to achieving true sustainability.

For the third consecutive year, BPI has been named the Best Sustainable Bank in the Philippines by FinanceAsia, one of the region’s leading finance publications. BPI has also won sustainability awards by Global Finance for the second year in a row, copping the 2022 awards for Financial Leadership in Sustaining Communities in the Asia Pacific Region and Best Bank for Sustainable Finance in the Philippines.

At the Manila Bulletin, we too, later in the year, will mount an event that will seek to raise and upgrade the Sustainability conversation, and help promote it being seen as something that we all can easily adapt into our lives.