“Fragile” is a word I’ve found myself mulling over lately. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed fragility in all its forms with raw candor.
Of course, there is the inevitable fragility of our human bodies. But we’re also seeing fragility exposed in the government response to the novel coronavirus, and in the pandemic’s micro- and macro-scale economic devastation.
Those of us on the West Coast are seeing the painful fragility of our habitat. This year’s fires are the worst we’ve ever seen—and fire season is far from over.
Problems we knew about, issues we suspected but tried to ignore, inequities lurking just below the surface—all these frailties have been exposed in ultra-high definition, from the urgency of climate change to the long shadows of slavery and systemic racism.
There is No “Going Back to Normal”
All of this is to say that our old norm of doing business and organizing society had a certain efficiency about it, but the systems we built were more fragile than many of us thought.
The opposite of fragility is resiliency. And, long-term resiliency is what sustainability is.
With that in mind, any economic recovery must be a sustainable recovery—one that both improves life for everyone on our planet today and protects the planet for future generations. It’s why my boss, Bank of the West CEO Nandita Bakhshi, wrote not long ago that “there is no ‘back to normal’ … we need to create a new normal.”
Amen. Now the question for many of us in the business world is: How?
At Bank of the West, we don’t claim to have the definitive solution. What we do have is a piece of the answer for building back better.
CSR = BAU
This summer at Bank of the West, we folded Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into our Growth & Transformation department. As a core function, CSR now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with transformational departments, including Customer Experience and Digital. Just as CX permeates our banking model and digital is ubiquitous to our model, now CSR is fundamental and will touch all aspects of how we do banking.
We did this because the concept of “sustainability” must become all-encompassing. Ecological sustainability, social sustainability, and economic sustainability are all interdependent—and frailties therein often have a common root. Frequently, we can trace them back to a lack of sustainable development, which is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
“The economy simply cannot thrive long-term if social equity or the environment are ignored, or—worse—undermined.”
As has been proven repeatedly since March, the economy simply cannot thrive long-term if social equity or the environment are ignored, or—worse—undermined. And so, we took a look at own organization and systems to see how we might improve ourselves.
CSR is, far too often, a siloed nice-to-have department that meets legal requirements for sustainable development and manages PR-worthy donations, but doesn’t have any real influence over business operations or decisions.
We’re changing that.
“To successfully grow a business and transform it for the coming decades and beyond, sustainability and social responsibility must play a central role.”
Melissa Fifield, our new head of CSR, will likely share some of her thoughts very soon. But for now, know that our thinking boils down to this: to successfully grow a business and transform it for the coming decades and beyond, sustainability and social responsibility must play a central role.
The vision and work of our CSR team, and the policies they shape, are foundational pieces for us as we adapt to a changing world. And to be clear, this is smart business: More than 80% of Millennials say it’s important the brands they buy from share their values. We believe every individual and business has a role to play in creating a sustainable economic recovery.
Even – no, especially – banks.
What “Positive Banking” Means to Us
For centuries, banks helped fuel societal evolution through the activities they finance. By financing these projects using customer deposits, the banking industry represents the nexus between people’s money and what that money does in the world.
This is why what banks don’t finance is just as important as what they do. It’s why we believe that it’s critical that both consumers and business leaders understand that banking choices are part of a supply chain that has an impact on our world.
In our quest at Bank of the West to contribute to a better future, our CSR team will be key to any sustainable growth that occurs. If we all do our part and prioritize tomorrow as well as today, across industries and ideologies, it’s not so hard to envision a new normal—one that’s more resilient, more equitable, and much less fragile.