Embedding sustainability to drive stronger business performance

In the build up to the Responsible Business Summit USA we sat down with Valerie to get her opinions on future sustainability trends and how Citi are focusing on the SDGs

Ethical Corporation: What’s your current role and what are your responsibilities?

Valerie Smith: I am the Head of Corporate Sustainability at Citi. I oversee Citi’s global sustainability initiatives, which involves developing the bank’s sustainability strategy and goals in partnership with Citi’s business and operational units, including our $100 Billion Environmental Finance Goal. I’m also responsible for the development of the company’s sustainability stakeholder engagement and human rights strategies.

EC: What projects are you most proud of in your current role?

Valerie Smith: I’m particularly proud of how we have incorporated sustainability principles throughout Citi’s value chain. This is captured in our Sustainable Progress strategy. Launched in 2015, the strategy is comprehensive and covers our three primary pillars of activity: Environmental Finance; Environmental and Social Risk Management; and Operations and Supply Chain.

The strategy’s flagship initiative is our landmark US$100 Billion Environmental Finance Goal, a target to lend, invest and facilitate US$100 billion over 10 years towards activities that reduce the impacts of climate change and create environmental solutions that benefit people and communities.

EC: The broad umbrella of sustainability has changed a lot over the years, how do you see corporate sustainability evolving over the next 5 years?

Valerie Smith: Sustainability as a business imperative has evolved tremendously in the past decade, as has Citi’s sustainability approach since we first began working in this area more than 15 years ago. It is evolving from a side activity into an area that is embedded in the businesses and is fundamental to how we do business.

Over the next five years, I believe we'll continue to see deeper integration and a recognition that embedded sustainability helps to drive stronger business performance. We'll also see the blending of the environmental and social aspects of sustainability so that they are addressed in a way that is less siloed.

A broader trend that will require continued evolution of our approach -- and which is being driven by a shifting view of the role of business in society -- is that companies are increasingly expected to look outside their four walls and take into account not just financial risks but also broader macro-economic risks, such as those related to climate change, and to help drive innovations that solve societal challenges.

EC: There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, how are you embedding the Goals into your strategy. How was this decided?

Valerie Smith: Our Sustainable Progress Strategy was informed by extensive stakeholder engagement; it is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and focuses on the goals that are most relevant to our business and expertise. As a financial institution, we recognize that our most important contribution will be as a financier of the global development agenda.

Through our $100B Environmental Finance Goal, in 2014 Citi participated in over $23 billion in environmental finance transactions for our clients, and we will be announcing an even more significant total for 2015 when we report on our progress later in April with the release of our annual Global Citizenship Report. These strong numbers are a sign of burgeoning renewable energy and green bond markets and of the leadership of our clients in these markets.

Citi is also helping to bridge the financing gap for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through partnerships and innovative platforms. One such example is our Citi for Cities initiative, in which Citi works with governments, businesses and communities to develop efficient and resilient financial, commercial and social infrastructure -- much needed in this time of rapid urban transformation.

Also of great importance are Citi's own operational objectives. With more than 12,000 facilities worldwide, we have the opportunity to create real impact through our energy efficiency, green building and other sustainability initiatives. Our Sustainable Progress Strategy outlines Citi's ambitious sustainability goals for our operations. These goals include science-based targets to reduce Citi's absolute GHG emissions by 35% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

EC: You are participating in the Responsible Business Summit USA in April, could you tell us why these types of gatherings are so important for the sustainability community?

Valerie Smith: Complex challenges such as climate change and executing on the Paris Agreement that came out of COP21 have to be addressed in new ways, by facilitating rapid exchange of information and by forging new partnerships to seek innovative solutions. Citi's ability to drive sustainable progress is not simply a reflection of internal resolve; it is also a result of dynamic and innovative partnerships with clients, investors, employees and other stakeholders. This is why we at Citi will continue to take an active role in business and industry collaborations, and to lead in financing for sustainable development. Gatherings like the Responsible Business Summit allow us to cultivate these partnerships.

Leadership series  Citi  sustainability  RBSUSA  CSR  environmental  Human rights  stakeholder engagement  SDG  partnerships 

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