Our outgoing Head of Intrapreneurship Lydia Hascott reflects on the climate safe banking ecosystem and how insider and outsider change strategies weave together for impact.
In recent years, a whole ecosystem of actors has emerged around the goal of influencing banks to finance a just climate transition. Each of these actors represents a thread in a vibrant tapestry, weaving together to see the banking sector transformed.
Since 2018, the Lab has been growing our understanding of the threads in this tapestry, of how they weave together (or not) and what missing threads we might usefully stitch in. Here’s a snapshot of our learning.
The tapestry for bank climate action
Through our work, we’ve noticed a range of external pressure points that motivate banks to take action (see our working diagram above). No single driver tends to influence wholesale change on its own, but in combination they create the conditions for tipping points. For example, the first major UK banks announced net zero targets in 2020 off the back of the UK government signing its 2050 net zero target into law, anticipated regulation for climate risk disclosures, escalating climate protests, increased scrutiny from investors, and NGO-organised shareholder resolutions.
As a founding member of the Climate Safe Lending Network, we’ve been part of bringing together a global ecosystem of actors working for Paris-aligned banking at each of these pressure points. We’ve noticed how when an actor has their head down working hard on their piece, it can be easy to lose sight of the other threads and how they weave together. Enabling an ecosystem to make sense of itself helps the impact of the whole become greater than the sum of its parts.
Identifying a missing thread
All of these external pressure points raise the heat for banks, but nothing actually changes unless those inside banks take action in response to them. It’s ultimately bank leadership and their employees who redesign strategies, business processes and institutional culture to decarbonise their balance sheets and our economies.
This is where we noticed a missing thread in the tapestry. While there is a growing mass of stakeholders pushing banks to take action from the outside, there has been little support for those bank employees who are leveraging these external forces for change on the inside.
So we coined the term ‘climate intrapreneur’ to describe these internal changemakers and built the Climate Safe Learning Lab community and Fellowship programme for connecting them and growing their influence. In supporting climate champions across banks we noticed patterns in their experiences and institutional contexts that helped us tackle big questions like: How does change happen inside a bank? What barriers get in the way and how are climate intrapreneurs overcoming them? What external pressure points are proving most effective? We’ve documented these insights and we reshare them with community members to help them benefit from one another’s progress.
We’ve also developed tools for climate intrapreneurs to use. One is our Power Mapping Canvas (see image below). Two of the most common questions we hear from our community are: 1) Who are my allies? and 2) How do I build buy-in from power-holders in my bank? With this canvas, they can map colleagues based on their level of climate ambition and the amount of power they have to influence their bank’s transition. The work of a climate intrapreneur then becomes building the collaborative power of their allies and raising the climate ambition of key influencing targets. Our latest insights report shares proven tactics for climate intrapreneurs to do this.
Weaving the threads together
It also became clear to us that external bank influencers tend to have little visibility of what’s going on inside their target institutions. For example, once campaigners demand that a bank sets an oil and gas policy they may not be aware that one reason why a particular bank doesn’t respond is due to poor understanding at senior levels about which investments are genuinely sustainable. Targeted NGO campaigns to raise the awareness of bank leaders alongside internal sustainable finance training could address this barrier to change within the institution.
To contend with this issue, we began to carefully share the dynamics we observed inside banks with climate campaigners – while maintaining the consent and anonymity of our community members. These insights have been gold dust for helping campaigners to develop more nuanced influencing strategies. We’ve also seen this transform the entrenched ‘us v. them’ relationship between climate campaigners and climate intrapreneurs. They’ve begun to see themselves as allies – different coloured threads in the same rich tapestry, working for a common goal.
The tapestry of bank climate action is continually being woven. Today it includes many more threads of committed bank insiders who are working alongside courageous outsiders to see the world’s largest banks transformed. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to initiate this work and incredibly proud of the Lab team who continue to weave our thread into this powerful ecosystem for a just climate transition.
For more insights from this work see our publications and blog articles on Shifting Mainstream Finance.
Banking professionals can join our community for climate intrapreneurs and apply for the next Climate Safe Lending Fellowship.