The financial institution in brief:

ASN Bank from The Netherlands is a retail bank that was founded in 1960. It has €15 billion Euro under management. Dominant asset classes are: mortgages, governments, renewable energy, healthcare, water management, green bonds, investment funds (listed companies). ASN Bank is part of the Dutch Volksbank group which has a total balance sheet of €60 billion.

ASN’s mission: ‘Our economic conduct is aimed at promoting sustainability in society. We help to secure changes that are intended to put an end to processes whose harmful effects are shifted to future generations or foisted onto the environment, nature and vulnerable communities. In doing so, we do not lose sight of the necessity to yield returns in the long run that safeguard the continued existence of our bank. We manage the funds that our customers entrust to us in a manner that does justice to their expectations.’

We have translated our mission into policy. As stated, our three sustainability pillars –climate change, biodiversity and human rights, are at the heart of this policy. ASN Bank has set itself three long term goals in line with its sustainability pillars:

  • Climate: all investments and loans of ASN Bank are climate positive in 2030.
  • Biodiversity: all investments and loans of ASN Bank result in a positive effect on biodiversity in 2030.
  • Human rights: all clothing companies in which we invest pay its workers a living wage in 2030.

Our extensive CSR-policy can be found online.

ASN has a number of specialized sustainable investment funds, e.g. the ASN Environment & Water fund, the ASN Greenprojectsfund and the ASN Sustainable share fund. We are also a large financer of renewable energy projects i.e. onshore and offshore wind, solar parks and water boards. And we take an active role in financing the transition to a circular and biobased economy.

Investments

ASN is the largest investor in Finance in motion’s Eco.Business Fund. The eco.business Fund is a joint initiative of investors’ intent on supporting the promotion of business and consumption practices that contribute to biodiversity conservation, the sustainable use of natural resources, climate change mitigation and adaptation to its impacts. In providing financing to the fund’s target group for investing in activities that conserve nature and foster biodiversity, the eco.business Fund seeks investments that yield both financial and environmental returns. The eco.business Fund concentrates on the following four types of sustainable activities: Agriculture and agri-processing, Fishery and aquaculture, Forestry, Tourism.

We also invested in the NRW green bond. For more information, see here. ASN Bank signed and adheres to relevant guidelines such as CDP, CBD Business and Biodiversity Pledge, NCD/NCFA, Equator Principles, GRI, PRI, Montréal Pledge, Paris Pledge, UNEP FI, VBDO, UN Global Compact.

Why use natural capital thinking?

ASN sees important relations and interconnections between its three sustainability pillars- Climate change, biodiversity and human rights. We therefore cannot focus on one only of the three above mentioned topics but have to take a holistic view. For example when you invest in biodiversity i.e. nature restoration, you can also realise great benefits to mitigating climate change (carbon storage) and support local human rights. For this reason it is only logical to have long term goals on climate, biodiversity and human rights.

ASN therefore endeavors to retain, protect and where possible improve the existing biodiversity. In doing so, we adhere to the objective as formulated in the CBD: The conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

In order to conserve and improve biodiversity, ASN Bank’s investment criteria are centred on threats to biodiversity. The impact perspective therefore has central focus. According to the MA1, the major threats to biodiversity are 1. changes in land use (loss of natural habitat); 2. climate change; 3. the introduction of exotic species; 4. overexploitation; 5. pollution. For more information, see online.

What was the approach?

ASN Bank has been a frontrunner in sustainability for many years. ASN Bank aims to protect biodiversity in two ways. We do not invest in activities that have a major adverse impact on biodiversity, such as mining, unsustainable fisheries or fossil fuels. Secondly, by selecting the companies, countries and projects that, for instance, engage in responsible forestry or water purification, or that solve environmental problems, and in countries that look after nature properly.

The process of calculating ASN Bank’s biodiversity footprint and the process of developing a long term biodiversity objective have been quite valuable in itself. The process included interviews with experts and policy makers and a stakeholder meeting where the results were discussed. Stakeholders participating in this meeting included representatives from government, methodological experts and representatives of civil society organizations. The process has shown what decisions and challenges a financial institution may face when assessing its impact, when deciding on its responsibility and when working towards a biodiversity objective. The process has also shown how different stakeholders look at these decisions and challenges. Moreover, the process has created a basis for a network of experts and stakeholders that ASN Bank can consult and involve in the process in the coming years.

In 2016 the ASN Bank formulated a long term goal for biodiversity: a positive effect on biodiversity in 2030 with all investments made by the bank.

The challenge was to develop a methodology which measures a bank’s impact on biodiversity. Since rarely any financial institutions globally have a well-developed methodology, ASN decided to develop an own methodology to determine the biodiversity footprint of all its activities (its total balance sheet). Together with consultants CREM and PRé Sustainability it calculated the impact of all its investments on biodiversity. We performed our first measurement on the 2014 figures.

ASN Bank and ACTIAM have also taken the initiative to start the ‘Platform Biodiversity Accounting Financials’ (PBAF), a bottom-up, open source initiative to develop, together with financial institutions, a methodology for biodiversity footprinting by financial institutions. ASN Bank is also an active member of the EU platform CoP Finance@Biodiversity.

What were the outcomes of the assessment?

After our first measurement of the 2014 figures, in 2017 we improved our methodology and carried out a measurement for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The overall result of our impact for the year 2016 was an area of 66.154 ha which lost all of its biodiversity. Please note that this occupied area is stable as long as ASN Bank keeps its portfolio as it was analyzed. It does NOT mean that each year an area of that size is being added to the damage.

With developing the methodology we came to the conclusion that more and better data is needed for biodiversity foot printing. It is crucial that we see a further development of the external databases that collect information on biodiversity, i.e. Globio, Exiobase and others. Similar like CO2 the financial sector needs more, better biodiversity data on a company level to identify risks and opportunities regarding biodiversity.

Next steps: 

Since the calculations of its footprint of the years 2014, 2015 & 2016 ASN Bank has formulated its long term goal for biodiversity: a positive effect on biodiversity in 2030 with all investments made by the bank.

Currently ASN Bank is working on improving its methodology together with a small number of other financials, experts and stakeholders. For the methodology ASN will look for simplification and more accuracy. From the insights from the footprint analysis ASN Bank will tailor its investment portfolio to its long term biodiversity objective in the coming years. Future work will include the further identification of ‘impact hot spots’ and the identification of sectors and investments which will have a positive impact on biodiversity.

Read through the other Finance Sector Supplement case studies here.

1 https://millenniumassessment.org/en/Index-2.html
This case study support the Connecting Finance and Natural Capital project; brought together by the Natural Capital Coalition, the Natural Capital Finance Alliance and the VBDO.