Great Women: 2021

Sustainability as an obligation and an opportunity: how the financial industry can help stop climate change

At the latest since the Federal Constitutional Court obliged the state to protect the climate at the end of April 2021, one thing has been clear: if we want to keep the world a place worth living in, we must understand sustainability as an obligation for society. “We can all be part of a sustainable solution,” said Dr. Katrin Lumma, host and initiator of the zeb.Great Women network, at the beginning of a virtual discussion on the topic of “Sustainability as an obligation and an opportunity.

Prof. Dr. Claudia Kemfert, Head of the Energy, Transportation, Environment Department at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), ventured an optimistic look into the future in her role as guest speaker. “We can still manage to stop climate change within this decade,” the energy economist said. On one condition: “It is important not to waste time with backward-looking discussions. We need to take heart and look to the future.” The author of the book “Mondays for Future” addressed clear demands to the financial sector such as full transparency of risks, corresponding investment guidelines, as well as sustainability-based capital allocation. She assigned banks and insurance companies a key role on the path to greater sustainability. 

Following Prof. Dr. Kemfert’s speech, Dr. Katrin Lumma explained zeb’s view on sustainability in finance. “Awareness of the topic has spread among the general population at a rapid pace,” Lumma said, referring to the zeb Sustainability Study 2020. In her view, every bank must now clearly define its strategic positioning and ambition – “the more holistic, the more ambitious.”

In the further course of the discussion, four female decision-makers from renowned financial institutions gave thought-provoking insights into their view on sustainability. Melanie Kehr, CIO at KfW, was the first. Regarding the role of the world’s largest development bank in climate protection, she said: “Sustainable finance will become a game changer in commercial financing.”

Doris Höpke, member of the board at Munich Re, believes it is crucial to promote climate-friendly technology and companies in order to slow down climate change. She said that Munich Re was therefore increasingly assuming guarantees for products of young, “green” companies, such as manufacturers of storage media for climate-friendly energy. “This is how we make these companies more attractive to investors,” Höpke added.

Andrea Rexer, Head of Communications at Hypovereinsbank and responsible for sustainable business, reflected on the relationship between banks and politics as well as banks and consumers. “Interest in ESG products has now reached a very high level,” Rexer reported. She expected that in ten years, this would no longer be a mere trend but a demand of the “mainstream” of buyers. “Our job as a bank is to support the transformation,” Rexer said.

Eva Meyer, Head of Company Engagement at BNP Paribas, where she is responsible for sustainable business, also sees the banks’ task in ensuring greater sustainability through targeted, transparent investments. “It’s up to us to take a clear position,” Meyer said.

The subsequent group discussion revealed a very high level of commitment and motivation on the part of the decision-makers to meet the obligation to promote sustainability and at the same time to exploit the associated potential opportunities for their respective institutions.


Dr. Katrin Lumma, zeb

“Every bank must clearly define its strategic positioning and ambition. We can all be part of a sustainable solution.”