HSBC commits to sustainability with key initiatives across the region
Mita Srinivasan
10X People

HSBC commits to sustainability with key initiatives across the region

The business impact from the corona virus outbreak seems to stretch far beyond supply chains and employee safety. However, as one of the world’s largest banks, HSBC remains committed to its responsibility to the long-term success of not just its business but that of its customers. In a special chat with SME10x, Sabrin Rahman, Regional Head of Sustainability, MENA & Turkey at HSBC, shared her views on their sustainability initiatives across the region.

What does sustainability mean to you?

For HSBC, sustainability means managing our business responsibly to ensure long-term success. Being one of the world's biggest banks means the decisions we make can have a big impact. We aim to lend and invest responsibly, avoiding projects where the potential for social and environmental damage outweighs the economic benefits. We recognise that governments, corporations, the financial system and civil society are all stakeholders of climate change and sustainability challenges. Now more than ever, there is a need to develop the skills, business innovation and low carbon solutions needed to secure long-term prosperity for all. You can read more our priorities and achievements in our latest ESG report on our website.

Tell us how HSBC is supporting sustainability in business - how does this fit in with your overall role in business in the Middle East

HSBC, as a global bank operating in dozens of countries, is in a unique position to help drive the changes we need to see. We’ve made sustainability part of who we are – a strategic goal that informs and directs our purpose as a financial institution. Not only do we have a suite of sustainable products and proposition but also act as an advisor on how organisations can contribute to a low carbon economy.

To tackle climate change, a global investment of US$ 100 trillion is needed by 2030 to keep global temperature rise in line with the two-degree target set by the Paris agreement. One way we do this is by both by helping customers to reduce their emissions, and via our own operations. We believe it is important to lead by example.

We have been working to reduce our operational impact on the environment for some time. We started small with local goals on energy and carbon, then developed a carbon neutrality programme from 2005-2011 and are now in the last year of a robust global programme launched in 2012. This programme included targets to reduce our carbon emissions, energy, waste, water and paper use. We also set goals to increase recycling, procure electricity from renewable sources, and commission buildings to the highest sustainability standards.

With the help of employees, suppliers and strategic partners, we achieved our initial energy paper, waste, and carbon reduction goals in 2017. We stretched these targets and made them more challenging, including setting a new target to source 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In 2019, we were recognised with an A- Leadership score by CDP, a leading environmental disclosure organisation.

We continue to focus on achieving our remaining 2020 goals, whilst planning more ambitious targets for the future.

HSBC have several initiatives and partnerships to promote sustainability. What roles do these play in your sustainability strategy?

We believe social entrepreneurs are agents of positive change. We want to equip our customers and communities and our employees with future skills, tools and knowledge needed to thrive in a globally diverse economy. We have launched several initiatives and campaigns to support entrepreneurship by embedding sustainability at the forefront of their business models

Here are a few examples:

The Regional C3 Social Impact Accelerator: In partnership with Consult and Coach for a Cause (C3), The C3 Social Impact Accelerator programme has been launched empowered by HSBC in 2018. The programme addresses key milestones in the journey of a social entrepreneur and focuses primarily on helping entrepreneurs maximise their social and environmental impact on the community.

20 finalists from the UAE, KSA, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Algeria and Turkey will be selected to participate in a week-long programme later this year in Dubai with impact investors and experts from the social enterprise world. All participants have to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals such as health or education.

Living Business: Launched in 2004, HSBC Living Business has been helping small and medium sized enterprises in Hong Kong to become more competitive and productive by incorporating socially and environmentally sustainable practices into their business operations. The pilot is going to take place in the UAE and we are aiming to involve 50 companies and the programme will focus on the integration of ESG metrics.

TiE Dubai Mentorship Sustainability Class of 2020 powered by HSBC: The Indus Entrepreneurs, was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs. TiE’s mission is to foster entrepreneurship globally through mentoring, networking, education, incubating and funding. Our partnership with TiE Dubai will support nurturing the new generation of start-ups, that are working toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Tatawwar: Tatawwar is a self-driven online platform that raises awareness about the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It has been running for a second year now, with more than 4650 registrants, ages 15-18 from across the Arab world coming up with their unique ideas to address some of the world’s most pressing social and environmental issues.

Through Tatawwar, we want to provoke reflection, challenge current thinking and stimulate a new approach within the schooling curriculum. Tatawwar sets out to explore how social entrepreneurship could create opportunities for young people to contribute towards global issues. It also elevates an innovative social enterprise curriculum and provides a pathway to deliver at scale through our education systems.

How involved is the corporate team in these individually and what role does sustainability play in your internal roles?

Our goal is not, and never has been, built around making a profit at any cost. We know that tomorrow's success depends on the trust we build today. Therefore, our funding is from a community donation budget and we work on these initiatives with credible partners and is not-for-profit. The majority of our programmes are co-developed with our partners, where HSBC brings our global knowledge and network to the table. Sustainability is a part of the daily lives and roles of the majority of our colleagues, whether it be how they consume, advise or support our clients – it is top of mind.

What should SMEs do to stay up to date and be part of this sustainable commercial space?

We believe that ESG factors have an impact on the value of all investments and are integral to sound investment decisions necessary to preserve and deliver long-term growth of our customers’ capital. We encourage SMEs to integrate ESG metrics in their business models. Investors are looking to place their money with companies that have a strong understanding of environmental and social impact – in addition to integration into their business practices.

Millennials are also becoming more conscious about their places of work and how they are adapting to rapid social change and environmental issues. Globally, regulation is also tightening around topics pertaining to sustainability such as the carbon tax and human rights. My advice would be to ensure you are connected to networks, individuals and organisations who are leading in the ESG space. It is rapidly evolving and is becoming increasingly critical to not only attract funding, but also the right talent and clients. Most importantly it can be a framework and tool to identify and address risks in your business.

How is the current global pandemic affecting your sustainability programs?

We are pivoting many of our sustainability programmes to adapt to the ever changing national and international directives. For example, some of our educational programmes are now going to be delivered via online modules and platforms. A limited number of programmes will have a slight delay in implementation as they call for face to face delivery. We have made a decision to work collaboratively with our nonprofit partners to help design a new approach to these programmes, together. We are offering our technology and skillsets across the bank to reimagine how we can continue to support our community safely. Our philanthropic donations continue as planned.