William Cain talks to
James Stacey, Standard Chartered’s head of sustainable business,
about the group’s significant social responsibility initiatives.
The group’s recent environmental web-based campaign, Race for a
Living Planet, has proved a runaway success, with nearly three
million people making pledges.

After a number of high-profile corporate social responsibility
(CSR) programmes like Seeing is Believing, commitments under the
Clinton Global Initiative and efforts to help people with HIV/AIDS,
Standard Chartered (StanChart) has registered another CSR

Its online web campaign Race for a Living Planet, which promotes
sustainability issues, has received nearly three million
environmental pledges from visitors. The pledges included basic
commitments like ‘I won’t leave the tap running while brushing my
teeth’, or ‘I will reuse a plastic bag at least three times a
week’. They were then combined to show the cumulative effect small
changes in behaviour could have on the environment.

Results from the initiative showed that if people stuck to their
pledges, 6.4 billion litres of water could have been saved, along
with 95.8 tonnes of CO2, 55.8 million plastic bags and over 300,000
trees. And although the campaign, Race for a Living Planet, has
recently closed, it is still attracting over 100,000 new users a

The awareness-raising campaign is part of StanChart’s sponsorship
of the Greatest Race on Earth marathon series – where nations
compete in a relay-style race in four marathons over four months in
Nairobi, Singapore, Hong Kong and Mumbai – and is an example of
StanChart’s wider CSR commitments. StanChart challenged people to
support competing nations by making environmental pledges rather
than sponsoring them with cash. The three nations that generated
the highest number of pledges per capita then received a $1 million
prize to invest in environmental projects in their country.

“People often say ‘what I do in my life doesn’t make any
difference’, but we can show it makes a massive difference,” says
James Stacey, StanChart’s head of sustainable business. “It has
been a fantastic campaign to highlight to people why this is
important. To go through this, people are asking ‘is climate change
really happening?’ or ‘is deforestation really that bad?’.”

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Typically, StanChart’s CSR focus is on emerging markets. Last year,
the bank made 96 percent of its profits outside the US, Europe and
the UK; and 97 percent of its workforce lives in its key emerging
markets. Stacey said: “In the markets in which we operate, people
live and breathe this stuff. Kenya has had a serious drought for
several years; Korea had its worst floods on record last year; in
Hong Kong, the air quality only meets World Health Organisation
standards one out of every ten days. Singapore is covered in smoke
for three months because of forest fires in Indonesia – people
literally live and breathe it.”

He added: “If you live in Mumbai, where they turn the taps off for
two hours a day, and you work for someone who has a strong position
on water scarcity, it will make you feel better. An engaged
workforce is a key driver for us.”

The group’s Seeing is Believing programme helped restore sight to
one million people within four years of its 2003 launch and has now
broadened its scope to helping prevent avoidable blindness. It aims
to have benefited 10 million people by 2010.

Making a profit

While Stacey believes the environment and sustainability are big
issues, he is not embarrassed to say the best way to address them
is through making a profit. The bank currently has a $170 million
microfinance business which it plans to grow to $500 million by
2011, with loans to 4 million people. The target is part of its
commitments under the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a
high-profile problem-solving organisation headed by former US
president Bill Clinton.

Stacey said: “Working out how we can create win-win situations
where we benefit – and the environment and society benefits as well
– is really the crux of our sustainable business strategy. At the
end of the day, companies only give so much to charity. And they
don’t give $500 million.”

StanChart is looking to fund up to $10 billion worth of new,
renewable and clean energy projects in Asia, Africa and the Middle
East, also part of the CGI. The best way for a sustainability
policy to work, Stacey added, is by incorporating it into the
business model, rather than by bolting on a few charitable
programmes to the bank’s existing business.

One way StanChart is doing this is through the adoption of the
Equator Principles. The principles outline a framework plan for
managing social and environmental risks in project finance
programmes. Stacey said StanChart is working with clients to work
within the framework, but is ready to take tough action when they
do not fulfil their commitments. He said the bank has already
backed out of one project in the power sector because the project
sponsor was unwilling to abide by the principles.

In China, where the bank is pushing hard to expand its business, it
is also working with the government to solve environmental
problems. Stacey said a “good proportion” of the $8-10 billion
renewable energy funding committed under the CGI will be spent in
the country. And while the country has been singled out as a
significant emitter of greenhouse gases, he said its per capita
emissions remain low.

“China’s on a path to lifting millions out of poverty. It’s not
China that put the CO2 that’s up there already, it was the
developed world. How we progress in dealing with this needs to be
balanced. It’s very easy to point the finger in certain directions
without considering the complexities of the issues.”