The EBRD expands the concept of sustainability

By Martin McKee and Mikko Venermo


Safeguarding the environment and promoting sustainable use of resources

The Green Economy Transition (GET) approach is part of the EBRD’s overarching aim of protecting the environment and encouraging more sustainable use of resources. Here two senior members of the EBRD’s Environment and Sustainability Department describe the EBRD’s broader sustainability work.

Pollution prevention, gender, economic inclusion, stakeholder engagement, environmental infrastructure, green cities, climate mitigation, road safety, food security, SME and micro-lending … if you start mapping the activities that could reasonably fit under the banner of “sustainability”, you quickly find that there are very few parts of the EBRD’s work that are not linked to it in some way.

This goal both drives what we do and how we do things. We report annually on these issues in our Sustainability Report.

This is not new. The EBRD was established when its region was facing an environmental crisis, carrying the communist era’s legacy of environmental neglect and wasteful use of energy. Many legacies of this time are still with us, the Chernobyl Shelter project being a stark reminder of the long-term consequences of short-term thinking. The EBRD was created partly to help address these problems and mandated to promote environmentally sound and sustainable development.

Recent events, from the financial crisis of 2008 to natural disasters, have caused growing global uncertainty. We face an unprecedented challenge to put our world on a sustainable path. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets accepted by all countries last year demonstrate the scale of this new universal agenda. The need for ambition was underlined at the Paris COP21.

Estimated financing needs are enormous. Governments around the world are looking to the EBRD and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) to lead in supporting the implementation of the SDGs and COP21 resolutions. The key is bridging public and private sector policies, interests and finance. As well as using more of their own resources for sustainable investments, MDBs have also led the development of the green bond market to help mobilise private sector financing for climate- and environmentally-friendly investments.

For 25 years, the EBRD has expanded the concept of what sustainability means, from a narrow focus on pollution control to a more holistic and integrated consideration of environmental, climate, labour, safety and social issues through the implementation of the Environmental and Social Policy.

With the adoption of the Green Economy Transition approach comes an explicit acknowledgement that climate change and environmental degradation represent a systemic market failure, one that impedes economic activity and human wellbeing.

Our sustainability agenda aims to achieve economic growth and recognises that resilience and stability must be built on balancing the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development.

The highlights of this year's work by the EBRD to promote the best environmental and social standards; tackle climate change; and advance inclusion and gender equality.

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As the video above shows, in 2015 this meant, for example, financing effective waste water treatment for 1.8 million people or supporting renewable energy projects that will generate 3.5 Terawatt-hours of clean energy each year without compromising the affordability of these basic services to people. That’s enough electricity to power 750,000 homes.

Closer to home it means buying green electricity for our offices and paying at least the London Living Wage to contractors and suppliers working at HQ.

We are now being asked to build on our success, founded on linking the public and private finance, to implementing high-level policy goals through concrete projects on the ground.

If you were to connect the dots between the Sustainable Development Goals and sustainable waste management in the Kyrgyz Republic there is a good chance the line would pass straight through an EBRD office. We are well placed to incubate and try new ideas, for example working with clients to find new ways of doing something positive about gender equality that also adds value to the business.

We are also being asked to be more transparent about what we do. Good governance sits at the heart of sustainability, and accountability sits at the heart of good governance. That applies as much to the EBRD itself as it does to the clients and countries we work with. We face continuous requests to provide more quantitative and qualitative information on the impacts and outcomes of our work.

Finally we are being asked to act now. Climate change is one challenge that is definitely easier and cheaper to mitigate quickly than adapt to its consequences slowly. As Martin Luther King said, albeit in a very different context, “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late”.