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Banking on a brighter future for water

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Water has become an area of growing importance and focus for Netherlands-based global bank ING – reinforced recently by the increasing interest that has emerged in building a circular economy. ‘We are really engaging our mainstream experts in trying to find solutions,’ says Ambika Jindal, VP Sustainable Finance and the bank’s lead on water. 

This central concern for water is driven in part by the scale of the global risks and challenges that have been highlighted by, for example, the World Economic Forum and ratings agencies such as Moody’s. ‘It is clearly a challenge,’ says Jindal, who represents the bank on the steering committee for Amsterdam International Water Week. 

This threat translates into a potential for water-related impacts on the businesses of ING’s clients and, in turn, on the bank itself, meaning there is commercial sense in ‘future-proofing’ these businesses. ‘Making them more resilient to the challenges of water will make us more resilient as well,’ says Jindal. This is a global issue. ‘It is at the doorsteps of our clients worldwide,’ she says, adding: ‘As a globally operating mainstream bank, we see there is a lot of opportunity. Financing water projects is not just a niche for development banks and governments to pursue, but requires the funding and structuring capabilities of commercial banks.’ 

 

'The thinking in ING on sustainability has transformed over the past 5-7 years.'

Eugene Kock, Director Structured Export Finance at ING


The message is that banking has a key role to play in creating a brighter future for water. ‘We want to make it visible that we are committed to this topic, and then to engage with the right kind of water sector actors to come together and find solutions,’ says Jindal. 

‘Given our Dutch roots, water is a topic which is also a natural fit for ING to pick up as one of the key target areas in sustainability,’ adds Jindal’s colleague Eugène Kock, who works in the lending department of the bank as Director Structured Export Finance. 

Kock notes that ING has provided finance to water projects in its past, including drinking water and sanitation projects in countries such as Ghana, Sri Lanka and UAE. ‘The thinking in ING on sustainability has transformed over the past 5-7 years,' he says. ‘This means being much more active in seeking out water projects and sharing our knowledge.’ 

This increased focus on water is now linked to rising interest in creating a circular economy. As well as being a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the leading circular economy think-tank, ING has marked its commitment in this area with publication of a new report on water and the circular economy, just released with the input of Dutch consultancy Deltares. ‘Circular economy is one of the key focus areas of ING,’ says Jindal. 

The report ‘Less is more; circular economy solutions to water shortages' covers six different geographical areas which between them also cover a number of sectors, making it relevant to ING’s client base around the world. ‘At ING, we realised that our footprint in water is global and in different sectors,’ says Jindal. The report provides a lead-in for conversations with clients on providing financial solutions for new approaches with water. 

 

'Financing the circular economy is one of the biggest challenges we are facing right now.'

Ambika Jindal, VP Sustainable Finance at ING



Kock sees that there is sufficient liquidity in the banking market to provide financing to help meet the world’s water needs. At the same time, many water projects don’t have access to bank funding, so the challenge appears to be to combine funding with good projects. He says that an earlier input of banks is crucial if more projects are to get initiated, teaming up with clients and consultants to bring in the financing angle. ‘That’s where I think we can bring expertise,’ he says. 

Both Kock and Jindal believe it is important to get some early projects underway. ‘Financing the circular economy is one of the biggest challenges we are facing right now,’ notes Jindal. Early projects will help generate momentum. ‘We want to build a skill-set,’ she adds. 

Another priority is to spread knowledge on how to implement a circular economy as far as water is concerned. ‘We are so used to using water in a linear way that suddenly using it in a circular way is a very challenging thing to do,’ says Jindal. 

It is with these priorities in mind that ING is participating in Amsterdam International Water Week. ‘A lot of clients and players in the market are not aware that commercial banks are even interested or want to engage, so the first thing we would like to do through the conference is make people aware that we are committed and we are willing to talk,’ says Jindal. It is for similar reasons that ING has accepted the invitation to join the Program Advisory Committee engaged with organising the event as the only commercial bank. ‘We wanted to make sure that finance is well represented in the conference,’ she adds.

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