As climate change and its large-scale negative effects are no longer just presumptions but a reality we are all facing on a daily basis, every member of society, including those in the business environment, must behave and do business in a more sustainable way. Business Review talked to representatives of large companies in Romania and highlighted several solutions that can ensure a greener and safer future for the coming generations. Implementing sustainable urban development, water management, and farming, supporting businesses with green finance, and finding ways to lower carbon emissions in all our activities are among the actions that could be part of the solution.
BR: What does the transition to a green economy mean and what does this entail?
Alexandra Maier, Sustainability Manager at ING Bank Romania: When considering the transition to a green economy, we are imagining economic growth that is in balance with social and environmental sustainability, which entails leaving behind a system that permitted or caused a crisis and replacing it with one that proactively prevents and addresses the economic, environmental, and social issues.
For us, as financial institution, the focus is where our biggest impact is, in sustaining a transition to a green economy through our lending portfolio, sustainable finance. We learned in the recent years, together with our customers that this process is a complex journey, that takes time and means developing solutions and offering consultancy to our customers, bassed on a clear and consistent framework. In short, this transition is about finding the balance between the need to keep the business moving and implementing changes to achieve its sustainability ambitions.
We’ve financed and will continue financing green energy projects through green loans and bonds, sustainability-linked products, other innovative products and financing constructions. While we lead by example and constantly improve the impact of our own operations.
BR: How far or close is Romania from the transition to a green economy?
Alexandra Maier, Sustainability Manager at ING Bank Romania: While Romania has undertaken steps towards supporting a national agenda for sustainable development, the country’s transition to a green economy is still hindered by a variety of factors. This includes a lack of policy vision, an ineffective policy framework, and low public investments but a gratifying increase in environmental awareness and concern from individuals and the business community. The interest from our customers, both companies and individuals, has increased constantly over the past few years. In ING, we are taking strong steps in this direction through all our mechanisms: monitoring our environmental impact, investing in operational efficiency solutions, improving the impact of our business travel, transitioning to recycled plastic or virtual cards and many more. We play our full part in the social and low-carbon transformation that’s necessary to achieve a sustainable future, steering our financing towards meeting global climate goals. And most important, we are here to support our customers’ transition with sustainable products.
BR: How can banks contribute to this transition as well as to the development/increase in the number of sustainable companies?
Alexandra Maier, Sustainability Manager at ING Bank Romania: In 2021, ING conducted a study among 450 companies in seven sectors of activity and 100 institutional investors from three continents. We found out that 72% of investors have a great appetite for green project portfolios and want more transparency from companies about their sustainability goals. Therefore, we can say that the appetite is there, at least among the big companies.
At the same time, among local entrepreneurs, SMEs, it is necessary to raise the level of awareness of the opportunities they have and, implicitly, the benefits they can obtain by switching to more environmentally friendly solutions. What we can do is to inform, develop the solutions they need to obtain funding and facilitate access to European funds through PNRR and other available programs.
BR: Legal framework for such new technologies and what Romania should do to adopt on a larger scale renewable energy and new technologies in the field?
Alexandra Maier, Sustainability Manager at ING Bank Romania: Both EU and local institutions are treating the matter. An important test for us all will be to work together and have these frameworks coherent, at least at industry level. We strongly believe in leading by providing an example of good practices. Our bank, employees, clients and customers, suppliers, governments, other stakeholders – we all have to travel together and travel quickly. We have strong best practices from our corporate clients, – most recent example from ING is the decision to restrict financing of new oil & gas fields.
As for new technologies, Corinne Le Quéré, an expert on global emission recently stated, “Future technology won’t save us; much of it already exists”. Although technology will certainly evolve, I agree we should focus on what is actionable now. And analysing our operations, the way we conduct our business are things that can be managed with the current technology. It’s an evolution, we passed the phase when we deny or avoid the problem, the next step is to effectively set the frameworks. Progress, not perfection. It is essential to act now. We are committed to this journey and to become the bank for sustainability.