BofA launches battle of the bankers to drive green office savings

The competitive instinct of the U.K. banking industry has been credited with everything from creating one of the world's leading financial centres to pushing the economy into a lost decade. But could the "Masters of the Universes" desire to come out on top also be harnessed to drive green improvements across their business?

That is certainly the hope of Kegan Lovely, environmental manager at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which has this month launched a competition across the bank's U.K. operations designed to encourage staff to save energy and reduce paper usage. The competition will see 13 of the company's divisions ranked based on the extent to which they reduce their printing and whether or not monitors are switched off overnight, and in order to drive improvement performance will be made public every week.

"We are working with stakeholders to make it fun," Lovely tells BusinessGreen. "We're going to have a plain, simple, old-fashioned leader board, with the good results in green at the top and the poor results in red at the bottom -- in a competitive environment that is driven by leaderboards that has a big impact."

As an extra incentive the winning team at the end of the competition will be given a check to donate to the environmental charity of their choice.

The competition is intended as a "jumping off point" for further behavior change initiatives as the company works towards its targets of cutting paper use by 20 percent and carbon emissions by 15 percent by 2015.

However, while improvements in environmental performance are to be welcomed, Lovely is well aware that the biggest impact Bank of America Merrill Lynch can have on the green economy is by realizing its stated goal of investing $50 billion in green technologies and projects over the next 10 years.

"We had a target announced in 2007 to invest $20 billion over 10 years and we hit that at the end of last year -- over four years ahead of schedule," he says. "Now we are working on the $50 billion target as a way of really pushing ourselves."

Lovely confirms work is under way right across the business to mobilize more green investment. A global effort has been undertaken to ensure that bankers and client managers are aware of the various green investment products the company offers, and work is also under way to develop the bank's various green offerings, and expand its work in the emerging market for energy performance contracts and energy efficiency financing.

"We recognize climate change as a big issue and we want to be seen as a leader in tackling climate change," says Lovely. "We see climate change as a business issue. We want to facilitate the technology that is going to make a difference ... The big challenge is deployment of capital at scale. How do you finance 1 million people, each making an energy efficiency improvement that costs £100? The scale is key."

One potential answer that the company is excited by is the emerging market for green bonds. "We are working with the Climate Bonds Initiative, helping them to develop the standards for those bonds," Lovely reveals.

He is confident well-structured green bonds could help mobilise the large scale investment in clean energy projects that is desperately needed. "We need to deploy at scale, which means we need to derisk the offering in an environment where yields are not particularly high and there's an aversion to risk," he observes. "There's money out there in pension funds and institutional investors, but you need a way of offering triple A or investment grade products with the same risk-reward profile as standard bonds. Once you can get that initial construction right then the cash will flow as it does for normal bonds."

However, while Lovely is convinced by the model, he is less enamored by the green bond moniker. "It suffers with its name," he argues. "Green bond is the wrong term -- it covers all things for all people."

But whatever eventual name the emerging green bond market ends up with, Bank of America Merrill Lynch is optimistic its ever-competitive bankers will be able to drive returns for clients while mobilizing low carbon investment. And some of them might even win the printing competition at the same time.

This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen.

Bank of America image by Northfoto via Shutterstock.