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BLOG: Saving the planet one statement at a time

Written by: Tom Wolfenden
The dust may have settled on COP26, but as with most political issues, there are very different points of view about its importance, the impact it may (or may not) have, and the timeframe in which we might see progress.

It’s an emotive subject and while some will argue the toss over each of those points, without question what it is has done is shone a very powerful light on the subject of sustainability. The fact that climate change affects all of us and we each have an important role to play has been brought into sharp focus.

For businesses, that should not only be how they themselves operate, but their role should also be to help their customers buy or use their products and services responsibly. That, of course, extends to us as a bank.

At this point I must register a personal interest: I am an avid recycler, and have been for a while. My family might say that I take it to obsessive levels. With my ‘work’ hat on I have that same focus. There are things we can do, and are doing, that reduce our business impact on the environment, and these help towards the bank’s aim of making our operations ‘Net Zero’ by 2030.

We have put in place changes that help customers help us operate more sustainably, and I am extremely proud to see that our personal banking customers are helping save the planet one statement at a time.

Small changes, like giving customers a ‘digital first’ option and providing their statements by email instead of on paper, add up to make a big difference. By doing this, we have saved over 36 million pieces of A4 paper being used. Customers can, of course, opt for paper if that is their preference, but having a ‘green’ starting point is important.

The amount of paper saved equates to the area of 310 Wembley stadium pitches or the coast-to-coast distance of the United States (Los Angeles to New York). That’s a lot of paper!

We have also introduced envelopes with a fully biodegradable window for when we send items like changes to terms and conditions or mandatory regulatory communications. These replace envelopes that may not be recycled properly or could be diverted to landfill, and we have sent 2.5 million of these more environmentally friendly envelopes so far. As a consumer, you probably wouldn’t even give that a second thought.

Behind the scenes, colleagues who run our branch network have also carried out a thorough review of our branch processes and this highlighted a number of things that branches did because of ‘legacy’ policies.

These were operational and administrative processes that could either be digitized or had passed their ‘use by’ date and could be done away with altogether. For example, printing out forms documenting the collection of cheques, or where a ‘wet signature’ was required to simply change an email address on an account, which needed paper to be printed out.

In addition, our branches have put in place improved recycling arrangements for spent printer cartridges. While we are expecting fewer printer cartridges to be used as a result of the branch paper sustainability measures, it is vitally important that those we do use are recycled properly and consistently, which may not have been the case before.

Our review has also led to us stopping our daily internal mail service, saving over one million courier miles travelled per year.

Not only are these improvements to how we work reducing our carbon footprint and saving millions of bits of paper being printed over coming years, they will also save time for our branch colleagues who will now have even more of an opportunity to have important face-time with our customers. This is a real win-win.

A few years ago people didn’t have ‘sustainability’ on their radar, mostly because they didn’t need to. With social awareness increasing, sustainability is becoming less of a ‘nice to have’ and more of an essential consideration in everything we do, including the way we bank. We are proud to be doing our bit, but there’s a long road ahead of us if we want to embed sustainability in everybody’s mind

These sustainability developments come as a new ‘Green Team’ is assembled by to help our retail customers become more environmentally conscious. The Green Team will drive and deliver initiatives to help our customers become more aware of their environmental impact and as a result, make more informed financial decisions.

While most people see banks as simple providers of debit cards, personal loans, mortgages and branch services, there’s a lot of important change going on behind the scenes to make sure we are fit for the future and doing our bit for the environment.

Tom Wolfenden is HSBC UK’s Head of Retail

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