Establishing the Portuguese pillars of sustainability

Caixa Geral de Depósitos uses the strength of its position to promote sustainable practices across a range of sectors

  • Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Caixa Geral de Depósitos (CGD) believes a business based on the pillars of sustainability is important if it is to manage available resources in a balanced fashion, recognise opportunities and create value for the future; all in line with its stakeholders’ expectations. CGD has contributed to Portugal’s economic and business development, to greater competitiveness, and the international expansion of Portuguese businesses. It has also sought to prevent over-indebtedness, and foster the social and financial inclusion of people and companies by promoting micro-savings and financial literacy.

The financial sector – and banks in particular – play an essential role in promoting sustainable development through selective processes that incorporate policies and criteria to address socio-environmental risk, lending and customer satisfaction management precedents. Rigorously applying such criteria will reduce risks and, as a consequence, allow the greater accumulation of value.

The social pillar
CGD’s commitment to tackling the main social challenges in Portugal is one of the pillars of its sustainable path. It is reflected in the bank’s strong investment in areas such as access to financial products and services, microfinance, the creation of volunteer programmes, incentives towards entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurships, and support for the third sector.

This work was recognised by the European Commission when it selected CGD to form part of the social responsibility committee created by the European Savings Banks Group. In June 2012, CGD was chosen as the unique representative of the Portuguese business sector on the Committee of Experts of the European Commission for Social Business Initiative.

CGD has also developed several groundbreaking projects aimed at promoting volunteering. Proceeding with its leadership policy, CGD created Young VolunTeam in 2012. The initiative was developed in partnership with the sustainability consulting firm Sair de Casca and the third sector institution ENTRAJUDA, and with the support of the national government through the Director General of Education. One of the project’s goals is to fill the gaps that exist regarding volunteering and its promotion among the youth.

Young VolunTeam aims to promote a culture of volunteering among young people and to create an incentive for the youth to develop and understand the importance of skills such as mobility, curiosity, openness and entrepreneurship in their own professional future and for the overall competitiveness of their country.

The project relies on an innovative dynamic that gives the young people involved (aged 15 to 18) responsibility for its success. They are the leaders of the initiatives in their schools and communities. The activities in which each group of students engage include: training in volunteering and project management; developing training sessions for younger students; and building projects in their schools that will meet the overall goals.

Rigorously applying such criteria will reduce risks and, as a consequence, allow the greater accumulation of value

The students then send reports of their actions to a jury composed of the project’s partners. The five most valuable projects are publicly recognised and strongly promoted as best practices: examples to be admired and followed. As well as being supported by the programme team, some schools count on the help of a CGD Volunteer to develop their actions.

Schools enrolled for the project’s pilot year have already developed several campaigns to promote volunteering. They have also been involved in activities such as: food, clothing and book collection campaigns; visits to nursing homes; and creating a solidary store inside the school, where pupils can bring used clothes and take home new ones. The training sessions for younger classes have proven to be highly motivational for the enrolled students, and strengthening the relationships between schools, creating new joint volunteering projects.

Under its Education/Financial Literacy Programme, CGD has undertaken multiple initiatives with major social impact, promoting education for savings, and responsible and informed consumption via its Positive Balance website (also targeted to SMEs).

In support of entrepreneurship, the resources aim to create new businesses and innovative projects. These begin with credit analysis and lead to support for investment and innovative projects in universities. By supporting the creation of businesses as ‘first employment’ (e.g. start-ups), CGD hopes to combat high unemployment rates among young people.

Corporate social responsibility
In 2012, CGD received the Best Sustainable Banking Group in Portugal award, as well as awards for leadership in climate responsibility by the Carbon Disclosure Project and ACGE climate responsibility index. These reflect the work that has been undertaken as part of the bankís commitment to sustainable development.

In the same year, Oekom evaluated CGD as the best in class in the financial sector at the international level. The rating is yet another accolade for CGD’s sustainable performance and the commitments it has been making to the future: for the benefit of coming generations, society, the national economy and environment. This has strengthened CGD’s role as a legitimate ambassador for the Portuguese financial sector in the application of the best international management practices.

In addition to several national and international awards, CGD has become a member, by direct invitation, of the Committee of Corporate Social Responsibility of the WSBI/European Savings Bank Group. Its membership of this important European forum allows it to leverage synergies and enter into partnerships that offer opportunities for the development of the Portuguese economy.

The environmental pillar
In 2012, CGD consolidated its commitment to sustainable development as a highly respected market leader by promoting best practice in the Portuguese financial sector. In terms of the environment, CGD has been following a demanding course in managing emissions of greenhouse gases, optimising available processes and resources, and significantly reducing energy bills.

The Caixa Zero Carbon Programme is emblematic, as it represents the bank’s strategy in relation to climate change by promoting a low carbon economy. It is the first structured programme for carbon neutrality in the Portuguese financial sector. Projects including the Solar Plant, Caixa Forest and the Carbon Calculator make CGD a leader in combating climate changes. It is the best Portuguese company and the best Iberian financial institution in terms of meeting the requirements of a low carbon economy, according to analysis carried out by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).

CGD is the only Portuguese company in the Iberian top six for tackling climate change and the only Iberian financial institution recognised for its contribution to a low carbon economy, according to the CDP report ‘Iberia 125 Climate Change Report 2012’. CGD was awarded the highest (A) performance rating and entered the Carbon Performance Leadership Index, which highlights companies that have demonstrated a strong strategic approach to combating climate change and reducing emissions.

CGD became the first Portuguese company to be chosen for inclusion in the index, thus taking the lead in performance among institutions in the financial sector on the Iberian Peninsula. This distinction is due to its continued implementation of goals and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with particular focus on energy efficiency, employee mobility, waste management, reuse of resources and waste minimiation measures.

For several years now, CGD has been involved in the Floresta Caixa (Caixa Forest) project aimed at the restoration and afforestation of a number of areas in Portugal. It began several initiatives for the preservation of forests and biodiversity to mark the International Year of Forests in 2011. Its major goal is to plant a tree for each of its youngest customers (below 14 years) and care for each one for the next 30 years.

CGD has already reached 157,000 trees: some of them in areas that were severely affected by forest fires that compromised the economy and wellbeing of local communities. The bank has managed this by gathering volunteers from CGD, local communities, schools, scouting groups, fire fighting departments, entrepreneurs and several other areas.

Strengthening business ties
Within CGD (and the group itself), initiatives in the area of sustainability are worked on by multidisciplinary working groups under a management model based on the General Committee for Sustainability and the Sustainability Steering Committee, where the Executive Committee is represented.

CGD’s commitment to sustainability, in constant dialogue with the various stakeholders, enhances the creation of global partnerships, active networks and strategic alliances, promoting innovation processes. The strategic pillars upon which CGD’s Portuguese retail banking activity is based continues to support the recovery of the economy and companies, along with households.

By the end of 2012, the number of companies awarded ‘PME LÌder’ in CGD totalled 2,306 (of which 314 had “PME Excelencia” status), compared to 1,089 companies (of which 275 were “PME Excelencia”) the previous year. CGD rose from third to second in the national ranking.

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