Mike Baillie
Mike Baillie

Did you buy into Nedbank’s greenwash?

As the bank with “green answers” – according to their marketing campaign – I have a few questions for Nedbank.

Nedbank has put a lot of effort into creating the impression of being a ‘green’ bank. They have an entire website devoted to the environment, and a range of account options with a green ‘flavour’. In their current ad campaign, Nedbank is eager to point out its carbon neutrality and they top it off with the line “a greener future needs a greener bank with green answers”.

However, despite the bank’s attempts at greenwashing their image, a recent report has named Nedbank among the highest funders of coal-fired power plants in the world.

The report examined the portfolios of 93 banks globally since 2005, looking at how they’ve financed and invested in coal power, a prime source of CO2 emissions. Two South African banks were named in the report: Standard Bank and Nedbank, both for financing Eskom’s portfolio of coal-fired power plants. Standard Bank has reportedly contributed 99 million euros since 2005, while Nedbank coughed up 85 million euros over the same period.

The simple truth is that burning coal is one of the dirtiest ways to generate electricity, not to mention the climate-changing effects of coal power. Yet here we find Nedbank providing finance to a corporation who is building – right now – two of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants in the world. Kusile, the second of these mega-coal plants, will single-handedly increase South Africa’s carbon emissions by 10%.

While I find it shameful that any bank would continue to provide funds for such carbon-intensive developments, Nedbank’s case is as sinister as it is insulting – especially in light of a PDF file I found online. In ‘Carbon finance and the future’, Nedbank outlines why carbon emissions are such an issue, and why corporations and companies should take them seriously:

Through adverse public opinion, firms not acting in the best interests of consumers, or that fail to ensure their organisational impact on the environment is minimised, could face severe reputational and adaptation risks. Such risks will damage brand value and may lead to loss of customers, market share, and could give rise to litigation.

In other words, Nedbank knows that being environmentally aware is good for business, and it advises other corps about the dangers of not minimising their impact on the environment. It gives specific advice about doing business in the context of climate change – and how public opinion is key.

But rather than taking climate change seriously (as it urges others to do), Nedbank flouts its own advice and chooses to focus on the public opinion aspect, trying to dupe customers by applying a lavish coat of greenwash. Faking it brand-wise, Nedbank then goes on to finance possibly the most carbon intensive project in the country.

You can’t have it both ways. Either you profit from financing dirty coal, or you position yourself as ‘green’ and profit from that competitive edge. But you can’t have both: it’s dishonest, and insulting to the customers you do attract with your phony green sheen.

So Nedbank, as the bank with ‘green answers’, I’d like to know how you marry the two: branding yourself as a green bank whilst investing so lavishly in coal power, and driving climate change in South Africa. Judging from the report, your identity is a sham, a conscious effort to deceive customers into thinking you are something you are not – a deception you profit from while bankrolling climate change.

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