Sustainable Innovation

Rabobank, an exemplairy bank
December 17, 2009, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Best Practices in The Netherlands | Tags: ,

The Dutch Rabobank is one of the three most Sustainable banks worldwide. It is well aware of the responsibilities of banks being able to build or break sustainable innovation (see earlier post) Rabobank wants to play a role in food and agri chains worldwide and encourage renewable energy projects.  Bouwe Taverne, Head of Sustainable Developments, tells about the origins and operational implementation of Rabobanks Sustainability Policy.

The Rabobank is one of the Dutch largest banks, employing 65,000 FTEs at 161 local banks in 27 countries. Despite the difficulties in the finance sector, Rabobank has shown to be a stable factor. It realised a net profit of 2,8 billon euros in 2008 which is a 2% rise (1). The bank has the highest credit rating (Triple A) awarded by Standard & Poors and Moody’s.

Herman Wijffels started his position as CEO of the Rabobank in 1992. It was his personal conviction that Rabobank, being a cooperative bank knitted in local communities, should embed Sustainability in the Companies Strategy. It was Wijffels who created a Directory of ‘Sustainability’. Piet Moerland took over the CEO position in 2009.

Bouwe Taverne, Head of Sustainable Developments in the CSR Direction at Rabobank

Bouwe Taverne is Head of Sustainable Developments (‘DO’ or Duurzame Ontwikkelingen’) within the CSR Direction at Rabobank. This former chemical engineer with several years of environment consultancy experience, joined the Rabobank Sustainability Department in 1997.

Rabobank Sustainability Organisation. The Directory ‘MVO’ consists of 60 people in 4 sub departments : (1) Rabobank Green Bank, (2) Rabobank Foundation, (3) Rabobank Business Generator and Rabobank Sustainable Developments. Taverne and his team work in close contact with over 200 CSR officers in the subsidiairies worldwide.

1. What are Corporate Responsibility Objectives of Rabobank ?

Rabobank was founded in 1898 as a Farmers Bank, offering loans to regional farmers and entrepreneurs. Maintaining an economical and ecological balance in local communities has always been very important as bank subsidiaries are closely knitted into local business.

The bank belongs to the world Top 3 Sustainable banks and wants to keep this position. In 2008 the company was rewarded for the Dutch most transparent CSR report (‘Benchmark Transparency’) by the Dutch ministry of Economic Affairs. It is committed to various international CR guidelines : The OECD Guidelines of Multinational Enterprises, UN PRI (UN Principles of Responsible Investments), UN Global Compact, and the UNEP-FI (UN environmental Programme Finance Initiative.

Taverne explains that the bank has chosen four central CSR themes. based on social trends, market developments and Rabobanks societal roots :

1. Introducing sustainability to food and agri chains.

2. Encouraging new production methods and renewable energy sources.

3. Promoting economic participation and diversity

4. Fostering social cohesion and solidarity.

Key performance indicators have been defined for all themes to track progress. An example of the 2nd theme is ‘Extend of sustainable loans in billions of euros as a percentage of total lending’. Every local Rabobank bank has translated the key themes into KPI’s for their own respective subsidiary.

Taverne explains that the core actions of sustainable development are all related to the ‘Trias Ecologica’ (or  ‘Three Step Strategy) :

1)      Use Less Sources : Reduce the need of materials. Develop products that use the least possible materials by keeping a long lifetime.

2)      Use Alternative Sources : Use renewable energies, the least impacting, non-toxic, recyclable and bio-degradable materials to the maximum extend.

3)      Minimize the Non-Renewable & Compensate : Minimize the need for  non-renewable sources – and if you use them : compensate with carbon credits.

Rabobank set the example with carbon neutral operations as of 2007. This is realised by effectively reducing energy consumption and green house emissions : sustainable buildings, green data centres, flexible workplaces and low emission lease cars (<120 gr/CO2). The energy being used is renewable energy (for instance by windmills). The value of the green house emissions is being compensated with carbon credits.

2. How does CR contribute to Innovation ?

To Rabobank, Sustainable Development is the basis of many of the existing and new finance products.

Taverne notices that Rabobank carefully chooses its role in the process of Sustainable Innovation : It wants to bring and share knowledge and create a platform for innovation.

The  ‘Rabo Groen Bank’ stimulates Projects  of a sustainable character (2) In 2008 a total of 4 billion euro has been collected and invested in sustainable projects. Customers profit from a rather steady interest which is tax deductable. Criteria for Green Investments are set by the Dutch government. An example of a Sustainable Project is the 84,9 millio Green Fund Investments in Afval Energie Bedrijf Amsterdam (AEB) :

Waste Management Centre Amsterdam (AEB) turns waste into energy : 320.000 households are connected to city heathing system, including the metro’s and street lightning of the capital

Rabobanks partners with Public bodies to agree on the criteria for Green Funds and tax deduction rules. Among these bodies are the ‘Senternovem’ that is responsible for verifying Green Finance applications. Green Loans can be obtained for projects in sustainable agriculture, green houses, renewable energy and sustainable buildings. As of 2009, also for bargers, mobility and waste management (see previous example).

Rabobank is extensively using stakeholder dialogues to develop its business. Among them are discussions with NGO’s (Friends of the earth, Oxfam Novib and WWF), the academic world, sector federations and Sector Policies (12 in total) like the Round Table for responsible Soy, Palm Oil, the Better Cotton Initiative, The Better Sugar Initiative and the Round Table on Sustainable Biofuels.

Recently, the Dutch Greentech Fund, was launched by Rabobank and its partners : the Dutch Universities of Wageningen (agriculture) and Delft and the WorldWildlife Fund. The fund is aimed to finance ‘Green Tech’ start-ups (15 to 25) that develop innovative technologies or processes that contribute to a more sustainable product chain. Think about biofuels, or intelligent recycling.

The New Green Tech Fund for Dutch Start-Ups by Rabobank, the WWF and the Universities of Wageningen and Delft.

3. Does the economic Crisis impacts the CR Strategy ?

All industries and activities are affected by the economical crisis. People understand that we are not anymore in a period of high conjunction. Rabobanks Sustainability strategy will certainly proceed, which is proven by the new initiatives like the Dutch Green Tech Fund.

4. What are outlooks for the sector ?

We have clearly touched borders and we need to change. We notably need to change our ways of using resources and energy. The Copenhagen conference will be important for defining governmental new directives to stop climate change.

Western industries should assist the developing countries to grow their economies in a sustainable way.

Amidst all technological and societal developments, Rabobank has chosen a position to facilitate industries by sharing knowledge and financial stimulus, in close interaction with public, private and NGO organisations.

Sources : 1. ‘Annual Summary 2008’, Rabobank Group, 2008. 2. ‘Bankieren met een missie’, Rabobank Foundation, 2009, 3. ‘Groen’ ! Rabo Groen Bank, Jaarmagazine October 2009.


4 Comments so far
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Dear Jacobine,
After reading the article above, it impresses me so much because Rabo Bank willingly cares about so much the sustainability issues and the sustainable development. If you don’t mind, Jacobine, Could you please share how the Sustainability Organization look like? Anyway, i am Leonard from Indonesia and working in a commercial bank which is a state owned company namely BNI (Bank Negara Indonesia, see our official site at I am also a part of our BNI CST Team which stands for Corporate Sustainability Team. I am located in BNI head office in Jakarta. Our CST Team is not yet a structural organization in our BNI-wide Organization, so in this case we will intend to create a specific sustainability unit like Rabo Bank has. I guess, you work at Rabo Bank. If you don’t mind please share with us your sustainability department (including your organization structure) as it’ll be our benchmark. Thanks you very very much, Jacobine.

in green warms,


Comment by Leonard Panjaitan

[…] Bouwe Taverne of the Dutch Rabobank, explains how the Rabobank supports both incremental sustainable innovation (changing the course of the huge ship) as well as supporting outside start-ups (Green Tech Fund). An example of the first category of embedding sustainability principles in the banking sector is the lobby of the Rabobank to create a quality label applicable to all investments with an option to ‘opt-out’.  Instead of ‘Sociallly Responsible Investments’ all investments to be sustainable (with an opt-out). An example of the second category is the newly created ‘Green Tech Fund’. Read more about Rabobanks Best Practices here. […]

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