At the Innovation Zero clean tech congress in London, Sustainable Future News sat down with Heather Buchanan, co-founder of Bankers for Net Zero (B4NZ), to discuss her journey of co-founding the company and developing a net zero certification program aimed at accelerating sustainability efforts across industries.
The role and responsibilities bankers face in fighting the climate crisis are laid out in stark detail according to a 2022 report. “Banks have a crucial role in providing new finance to green infrastructure, phasing out… and discontinuing funding for existing fossil fuel infrastructure,” the report notes. “Banks can also create awareness and educate all companies, including SMEs, with a view to encouraging attitudinal change.”
The report was authored by Bankers for Net Zero (B4NZ), an organisation established with the primary objective of mobilising leadership within the UK banking sector to address the challenges of climate change.
B4NZ operates as the UK Country Chapter of the UN-Convened Net Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), a key component of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). GFANZ comprises four main pillars, with the NZBA playing a crucial role in driving collective action within the banking sector to achieve global net zero emissions goals.
As an initiative, B4NZ undertakes several key activities to drive action and leadership within the UK banking sector.
It facilitates dialogue and cooperation to design and implement interventions needed for effective climate action. B4NZ also encourages member banks, such as HSBC, Santander, British Business Bank and Paragon, to take bold and proactive steps towards aligning their operations, investments, and lending practices with climate-related goals.
B4NZ supports its member banks in setting ambitious science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It provides guidance and resources to help banks align their strategies with the goals of the Paris Agreement and achieve long-term sustainability objectives. It also facilitates the exchange of knowledge, experiences, and best practices among its members. It serves as a platform for sharing insights, innovations, and successful approaches to integrating climate considerations into banking operations.
The initiative also encourages transparent reporting on climate-related activities and progress by member banks. It promotes accountability through monitoring and assessing banks’ performance against their climate targets. This ensures that member banks remain committed to their net zero ambitions and can demonstrate their contributions to the overall climate agenda.
As Buchanan explained it, despite only launching in 2019, “the idea of creating a net zero certification program had been brewing in my mind for almost a decade.” Her primary goal is to provide holistic, best-practice implementation and certification support to help businesses establish effective plans, validate their progress, and connect with industry leaders.
Although the B4NZ program aims to support all sectors, they currently prioritise high-emitting industries such as the built environment, cement, steel, and industrial organisations. They are also working with the diamond and jewellery industries to encourage their engagement with sustainability efforts. By targeting these sectors, they aim to make a significant impact on reducing emissions.
Initially, their plan was to work individually with each company. However, they soon realised the importance of creating a platform and developing a broad ecosystem of advocates, educators, consultants, and reviewers, “By decentralising climate action and engaging a decentralised ecosystem we can provide local support within a global framework,” Buchanan explains. “This strategy involves setting the platform, connecting the supply and demand sides, and acting as the convener and validator of sustainable solutions.
“We are welcoming people to engage with us so that we can help them engage with the right ecosystem partners.”
Buchanan shared her excitement about the upcoming launch of B4NZ’s first net zero certification solution for the built environment, set to be released later this year. However, she emphasised this is just the beginning, as they plan to expand their program to other industries and remain open to input and feedback to continuously improve their system.
When discussing the role of the private sector in driving sustainability, Buchanan emphasised its significance. “While governments play a crucial role in setting policies, the private sector has the potential to go beyond minimum requirements and become leaders in sustainable practices,” she says. “Businesses can leapfrog government targets and contribute to positive change by aligning their actions with the goal of reaching net zero emissions.
“Private sector engagement is vital not only for influencing policy but also for scaling sustainable practices and future-proofing businesses. The private sector’s actions can absolutely have a substantial impact on shaping a sustainable future.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Buchanan expressed her optimism about achieving net zero targets, highlighting the adaptability and resilience shown during the COVID-19 pandemic as evidence of humanity’s capability to reinvent businesses and take action in times of crisis. She urged businesses and individuals to proactively address sustainability goals and not wait for another crisis to push them into action.
Given B4NZ is one chapter of a global net zero movement, thoughts naturally turn to global participation in net zero targets. Buchanan acknowledges the varying timelines set by different countries, such as China’s 2060 goal. Yet while debates remain over different countries’ developmental needs and responsibilities, Buchanan emphasises the importance of local action. “Climate change does not discriminate and affects vulnerable regions the most,” she says. “Urgent action is required to mitigate the impacts of climate change and ensure a liveable future for all.”
Buchanan has 15 years of experience in the sustainability sector and expressed hope for a positive future based on the evolution of the industry that she has witnessed over the past few decades. From net zero and green building initiatives to the emerging conversations around equity and sustainability. “I am hopeful that there are leaders out there who are constantly thinking about this and most importantly, they are committed to ensuring that we have a future for the next generation.”
Looking ahead, Buchanan is working on the continued expansion of B4NZ and says the success of their program will be measured by how effectively they assist projects in implementing sustainable practices, as well as by the inspirational stories shared by these projects to encourage others to take action.
By engaging banks and fostering collaboration among key stakeholders, B4NZ strives to catalyse transformative action, drive sustainability, and contribute to the broader global efforts of combating climate change and achieving net zero emissions.
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