Sustainability: A Special Role for Banks
A clear trend emerges in the previous chapters: care for the environment and the concomitant need to build a sustainable society is not a fad but an irreversible necessity. Businesses take voluntary action or can be forced to take part in this trend, the ultimate form of which is sustainable business, as set out in Chapter 3. Banks are also being confronted with this development or are helping to shape it. Moreover, if sustainable business is to be realized at the macro level, the stance of banks will be critical. Their role in economies is an intermediary one, transforming money by space, term, scale and risk. This function thus affects the development and direction of the economy; its influence is not merely quantitative but also qualitative. In part, a bank creates opportunities for sustainable business through its financing policy and is influential through its fee activities (in giving its customers investment advice for instance). Furthermore, banks have an enormous comparative advantage with respect to the knowledge and information they have about various market sectors, legislation and market developments. Banks can deploy these instruments and knowledge in a focused way and stimulate sustainable development. It is a question of will and vision. A bank must attempt to substantiate its sustainable development policy without trying to meddle excessively in the entrepreneurs’ business or becoming an extension of government (in the sense of trying to maintain legislation). Moreover, banks are also limited in their freedom by market circumstances. Not surprisingly, the real question is how far banks can go in stimulating sustainability directly.