After a bad run with the Reserve Bank, the mistreatment of staff, expense cover-ups, and the hurried departure of the bank’s CEO, now ANZ’s faltering greenwash has been exposed. But can the bank rely on its feel-good sponsorship campaigns and corporate responsibility policies to win the public’s trust? 350 Aotearoa campaigner, Claudia Palmer, examines the sponsorship ANZ doesn’t want you to know about.
At a time when the groundswell of public concern over climate change is at an all-time high, you’d be hard pushed to find a corporation which doesn’t purport to be socially and environmentally responsible. The idea of sustainability has far outgrown any hippy movement and is now expected in every sector, including finance. But what impact are sustainability policies really having? For banks like ANZ, a sustainability policy is a glossy facade used to cover up what’s really happening behind closed doors: the propping-up of the world’s biggest polluters -the fossil fuel industry.
ANZ is an old hand when it comes to buying up the limelight of our favourite sports teams and charitable causes. When it comes to sponsorship the bank’s branding is like a bad rash. But among all the good-sorts, there’s one ANZ sponsorship deal that bucks the trend: the bank’s backroom sponsorship of the Petroleum Club. The Petroleum Club is a bit elusive -the invite-only meeting in Taranaki is kept under wraps for members to discuss the advancement of the oil and gas industry. Despite the government sign-posting the end of oil and gas in New Zealand, these behind-closed-door meetings relentlessly continue to promote a business model that can only end with the destruction of the earth’s climate system.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t get warm fuzzies thinking about exclusive meetings where fossil fuel companies can advance their climate-wrecking agenda. So why is the bank secretly propping-up the industry responsible for over 70% of the world’s CO2 emissions? Unlike other ANZ sponsorships, this event does not appear on the bank’s website, TV adverts, and billboards. There’s no cheery kid excitedly talking about the world’s dirtiest and most deceitful industry. The bank cannot gleam in the social acceptability of the fossil fuel industry because it’s morally bankrupt. The bank keeps this sponsorship hidden away because if it didn’t, its carefully crafted sustainability policies and reports, its climate change position, and its claims of responsible leadership, would quickly unravel.
What would it look like if ANZ bank was transparent about its relationship with the fossil fuel industry and publicly supported it like any of its other sponsorships? Would bank managers call our grannies to inform them that their life savings were being funneled into risky investments that compromise their grandchildren’s future? Perhaps the bank would send its workers out on the street with branded balloons and donation boxes to raise money for the world’s most lucrative and deceitful industry. Would we text-to-vote which water table should be compromised next for a new fracking site? I imagine we’d walk the streets bemused at how one billboard could claim the bank is carbon neutral while at the same time boasting how $7 billion worth of loans to the fossil fuel industry enabled 2.8 billion tonnes of CO2 to be dug, drilled, and burned into our precious atmosphere. I can only imagine.
We run a great risk if we believe the elaborate corporate green-wash that keeps business-as-usual operating behind closed doors. That’s just what’s happening in New Zealand’s largest bank. Banks like ANZ position themselves as neutral players in the landscape of societal change. But we’re at a crunch point to address climate change and the banks play a pivotal role in inhibiting progress. The approach of backing both horses, will not suffice. Meaningful action on climate change looks like funding renewable energy infrastructure to enable a fast and just transition to clean energy. Sustainability policies cannot be just about coffee cups and tree planting: for a bank with the power to make or break new fossil fuel projects, the only truly socially and environmentally responsible thing to would be to rule out future investment in, lending to, and sponsorship of the fossil fuel industry.