How green is our Nedbank?

After Woolworths, Nedbank now faces activist campaign driven by flash mobs and social media

A cheeky new campaign against “green” bank Nedbank has challenged it to prove that its market positioning as South Africa’s premier environmental bank is not mere “greenwashing”.

Nedbank has since hit back, saying the campaign is punishing the bank for its public commitment to green investments while other banks are doing far less.

Environmental organisation 350Africa.org found that Nedbank invested almost R1?billion in coal projects in Africa from 2005

to 2013. This week, it released a sassy parody ad on YouTube, where it mocks Nedbank’s green efforts.

Two weeks ago, the organisation protested in front of Nedbank’s offices in Sandton, demanding it disclosed all its fossil fuel investments as well as issued a public statement saying it was committed to stop financing future mining, refineries and power station projects in South Africa.

The 350Africa.org drive is part of a worldwide fossil fuel-free environmental campaign.

Nedbank has positioned itself as the premier financier of environmental projects and, through its Green Trust fund, provides support to conservation and environmental campaigns. It was also the first South African bank to sign up to the Equator Principles, a risk management framework adopted by financial institutions for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects.

But 350Africa.org has accused the bank of greenwashing. It found that at least three of its key deals related to investments were made in coal miners Anglo American, Glencore and Exxaro.

Adi Frost, the regional communications manager of 350Africa.org, said the organisation chose Nedbank to spearhead its fossil fuel-free campaign because even though the bank said it was a green institution, the facts on the ground told a different story.

The environmental group upped the pressure on Nedbank with its spoof ad of Nedbank’s “Eugene” advertisements.

In the ad, “Eugreen”, clearly modelled on Nedbank’s character Eugene, is painted lime green. A voice-over similar to the original ad advises Eugreen on money issues. But Eugreen sheds green paint wherever he goes. He visits his grandmother, who lives in the shadow of a power station and falls sick.

At the doctor, there are more green coughing people and the voice-over tells Eugreen about how Nedbank is financing fossil fuel projects that are making people sick.

Nedbank communications manager Sizwekazi Jekwa told City Press the Eugreen ad put into question whether the nongovernmental organisation was really interested in dialogue or was merely posturing. She said Nedbank scheduled a meeting with 350Africa.org after the protest.

Although Nedbank is the most visible institution in the campaign, 350Africa.org has included other banks in its research.

“South African banks are greenwashing their work while funding Africa’s growing addiction to fossil fuels at the same time,” said Frost.

The organisation’s research found that Nedbank, Standard Bank and Absa/Barclays’ annual reports indicate a combined R10?billion of direct financing for coal projects between 2005 and 2013, which contributed to a combined annual profit of more than R32?billion in 2013.

Nedbank Capital’s head of resource finance, Peter van Kerckhoven, said Nedbank’s sustainability approach considered both the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the bank’s activities.

According to him, to date, Nedbank has invested R20?billion in renewables projects, and further projects are in the pipeline.

He said: “For now, fossil fuels remain the backbone of South Africa’s energy mix, providing power critical to the livelihoods of our clients.

“We will continue to support the power-generation industry through its transition in support of the need to change our energy mix over time.”

He added that although the Equator Principles set strict guidelines for sustainability, they do not limit members investing or lending into any industry.

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