New Resource Bank has a radical (for a bank) proposition: attract values-aligned deposits and use those funds to make loans exclusively to improve sustainability. The challenge: How do we measure borrower sustainability? And where do we draw the line between who qualifies and who doesn't? A related concern for us is maximizing our impact—we don’t want to be merely "preaching to the choir."
We’ve addressed the challenge by developing a client sustainability assessment and using the score on that assessment to place our customers on a sustainability continuum. We decided that the minimum standard we require is a genuine commitment to managing and operating more sustainably. That meant we needed to measure not just initial sustainability, but also progress over time.
The bank started testing the assessment tool in July 2010. After working with a trial group of existing customers for several months, the assessment team revised the tool based on that group’s responses and suggestions. All new commercial lending customers began taking the assessment in November 2010; existing customers participate when their loans are renewed.
Here’s how the process works: Every prospective client completes the New Resource Bank Client Sustainability Assessment, which asks a total of 42 questions about their practices related to: General Sustainability, Waste Management and Pollution Prevention, Energy and Water Conservation, Community Involvement and Employee Practices.
Points are awarded based on how advanced the company’s practices are.
We then use the summary scores to sort our clients into four levels of sustainability: Learner, Achiever, Leader and Champion.
Within those levels clients fall into Silver and Gold rankings. Clients receive a toolkit based on their assessment that provides resources, suggestions, and initiatives that can help them improve their sustainability. The bank’s goal is to have customers advance to the next level—or higher—with each successive assessment. We will re-assess existing customers annually to track the impact we are having and evaluate the trends across our market segments. The initial round of reassessments will happen at the end of 2011.
To date, 50 New Resource clients have completed the assessment. We have
- 1 Silver Learner (2% of total)
- 20 Gold Learners (40%)
- 15 Silver Achievers (30%)
- 8 Gold Achievers (16%)
- 6 Silver Leaders (12%)
- No Gold Leaders – yet
- No Champions – yet
Once the bank has a large enough pool of participants, we plan to use the collected information to compare markets, sector by sector, to determine whether certain types of businesses are scoring higher than others on the sustainability scale and what their challenges are. We could then use that information to devise industry-specific solutions—possibly in clean-technology, water management or health care.
As a bank, our goal is to ensure that depositors’ money is invested in companies, projects and organizations committed to sustainability. As a trusted advisor, our mission is to help businesses unlock the economic value of sustainability. By aggregating the individual data we collect, the assessment provides a means to evaluate both of these objectives.
This article originally appeared on Sustainable Life Media.