Climate Intrapreneurs in banking: new insights

Climate Intrapreneurs: Insights from the front lines of bank climate action is a new report  produced by the Lab in collaboration with the Climate Safe Lending Network. This report anonymously shares key themes from our recent Climate Safe Learning Lab convening, which brought together fifty banking professionals influencing the climate agenda within their institutions to share challenges, experiences and opportunities.

Despite the Wolf of Wall Street stereotype, there are people working within banks who feel deep concern for our planet and future generations and a sense of urgency to address the climate crisis that threatens both. These bankers often feel they have more in common with the climate activists on their doorstep than many of their own colleagues and are using their day jobs to influence greater climate action within their institutions. At the Lab, we call these bankers climate intrapreneurs.

Climate intrapreneurs (noun): Banking professionals who are working to embed climate action within the core strategy, operations and culture of their institution.

Climate intrapreneurs can work in any role at any level of seniority. Some have to focus on climate on the side of their day job, others have a formal mandate to integrate it into their job description. There are three broad archetypes of climate intrapreneur, all just as vital as each other:

1. The Pioneer: Directly develops or implements climate-related strategies, frameworks, methodologies and innovations. Often in sustainability, risk, reporting and strategy roles.

2. The Patron: Creates institutional space (resources, relationships, mandates, protection) for colleagues to integrate climate into their work. Often budget owners, senior leaders or individuals with high levels of informal influence.

3. The Guide: Builds organisational capacity around climate, creates new networks and connections and supports others to embed climate into their day job. Often in support functions such as HR and Transformation or informally supporting colleagues.

At the strategic level there are five things climate intrapreneurs must ensure their banks are doing. These are outlined in Taking the Carbon Out of Credit, a report written by James Vaccaro, Network Director of Climate Safe Lending Network and Lab Senior Fellow.

1. Take responsibility for climate risk

2. Be accountable for both positive and negative climate impact

3. Stop the flow of finance to fossil fuels

4. Decarbonise economies and balance sheets

5. Finance innovation for a sustainable future

But there are three underlying factors inside a bank that determine whether and how fast these things happen: organisational structures; relationships and power dynamics; and mental models.

Through the confidential, pre-competitive conversations we hosted at the Climate Safe Learning Lab convening, fifty climate intrapreneurs revealed four areas where they are turning challenges into catalysts for accelerated climate action within their banks.

1. Exercising personal leadership: Climate intrapreneurs are asked to leave their personal values at the door and put on their ‘business hat’ at work. This cognitive dissonance drives them to speak up, collaborate with allies and model a different way of being a banker in the world.

2. Shifting mindsets and building buy-in: Climate intrapreneurs are reframing the role of banks in the net zero transition – to lead clients not follow demand. This requires getting comfortable with being uncomfortable as banks must build the ship while sailing, with not enough time to wait until all the data and methodologies become available.

3. Influencing relationships and navigating power dynamics: Climate intrapreneurs walk a tightrope between pushing too hard that they lose their seat at the table and so lightly that they don’t create enough energy for change. They navigate competing agendas and find windows of opportunities to act.

4. Creating enabling organisational structures: Climate intrapreneurs break down organisational silos, making sustainability everyone’s job. They push for resource allocation, training and development that grows climate capability in every part of their bank. Moving the sustainability function into the CEO’s office can see it form a more integral part of corporate strategy rather than serve a brand reputation function.

Finally, the Learning Lab also unearthed important insights for those influencing banks from the outside, such as NGOs, investors, policymakers and academics. Here are three things that external bank influencers might want to know:

1. Banks are not monoliths: There are people inside banks who feel more like climate activists than traditional bankers. They are looking to build relationships with external allies who share the same goals.

2. Invisible dynamics shape visible outcomes: External commitments and reporting don’t tell the whole story. Knowledge of the internal structures, power dynamics and mindsets within a bank can help external stakeholders put pressure in the right places to address root causes of bank inertia.

3. Campaigning pressure is welcomed: Climate intrapreneurs welcome NGO, client and investor pressure on their climate strategies. They leverage this internally to encourage decision makers to act.

The Lab and the Climate Safe Lending Network will work with these insights to continue to support both climate intrapreneurs and external bank influencers, and accelerate bank climate action.


Read the full insight report here. Banking professionals are invited to join Learning Lab community – which offers connections, convenings and an upcoming Fellowship programme – here. External bank influencers can join the Climate Safe Lending Network here. For press enquiries, please contact connect@climatesafelending.org.