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Starting a sustainability program.

Marijn Mennes

I'll let you in on a secret. I don't really know what sustainability means. Let alone how it works for business. Yes, sure, I have some assumptions about what makes something sustainable, but I'm by no means an expert. So, when the ABN AMRO strategy department reached out to my colleague Mike and myself for help, it was mostly out of curiosity and professional courtesy that we decided to help them.

Sure, we know a lot about communities, about the new generation of entrepreneurs, trends and tools, but sustainability is new to me. Having owned multiple businesses, I'm always interested to see corporate lingo lead to action. Talking to the strategy team, I realized that sustainability is a serious topic. So vital that it's part of ABN AMRO's strategy and purpose. So, together with some colleagues, we went on exploring options to put words into action. 

We started with the basic idea to formulate a program to help our clients make their business more sustainable. This program should match ABN AMRO clients with a problem to companies offering a solution to that problem. We use an Amazon-method to write a press-release before we actually start building, so people get the chance to understand the intention and impact of Impact Nation. You can read that here [PDF]. 

As a group, we quickly realize that we're not sustainability-and matching-experts per sé. So, we ask around for help and invite several companies for a chat. The topic of those conversations: discover if they can help us help clients. 

Fast forward a few months later, and we're informally celebrating a partnership with two great companies: TNW and ImpactHub Amsterdam. We've selected them because of their international tech-empire and -network (TNW), and the in-depth expertise about- and connections with sustainable businesses (ImpactHub Amsterdam). 

Personally, I'm happy that we can intensify the fruitful relationship that we already have for more than three years with TNW, as a founding partner of their tech space (called TQ). And there's an odd -but good- familiar feeling meeting the ImpactHub Amsterdam team. They're such knowledgable and kind people that I'm excited to see what the three of us can do together.

Internally, we're a hybrid crew of colleagues for now. We're bringing enthusiastic colleagues from business, marketing, strategy, the economic bureau, Circl, the Sustainable finance desk, and the G40 - ABN AMRO's 40 green ambassadors. We're even getting help from seasoned entrepreneurs to invite other clients to the pilot program.

After a few months of brainstorming, here's the outline of the Impact Nation program:

  1. Help (company) teams to define their main sustainability challenge;
  2. Scout for possible solutions for those challenges;
  3. Kick-off a 20-week program together, as teams of (inter)national companies present their potential solutions;
  4. Match and support companies implementing solutions to their problem;
  5. Present the first results of the program on a demo-day.

With this under our arms, we start inviting a select group of clients. To our surprise, we learned that not everybody is ready for our Impact Nation program. Do we get the message right? Are we too far from our roots for people to understand that we're doing something else than just finance? Or are we poor sales (wo)men, struggling to get our story to match the reality of our clients? 

Fortunately, after making some adjustments to our pitch, we see applications coming in by droves. OK, not literally, but we've got more applicants than we wanted. Now it's time to filter the ones we think we can help best and invite them for a challenge shaping workshop.

To summarize, we've got great partners, a program in place, and enthusiastic clients. But I'm still not very knowledgable about what sustainability means. How I approach that subject is in my next investigation story [next blog].

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