Melbourne Business School News How NAB is helping Australian farmers tackle climate change

How NAB is helping Australian farmers tackle climate change

A partnership with Melbourne Business School is giving NAB bankers the knowledge they need to help customers prepare for a more sustainable future.

NAB has been working with the Centre for Sustainability and Business to improve the climate capabilities of key bankers for the past two years and recently announced a bank-wide training program to increase climate capability in support of its Climate Growth Strategy.

One of the targeted initiatives was a program to deliver climate risk and adaptation training to 350 of NAB's agribusiness bankers, which has led to new products and a renewed sense of purpose among the participants.

James Bentley, Director of Sustainable Lending, said NAB was the largest agribusiness bank in Australia and that green products were critical to helping farmers adapt to climate change.

"I joined this role specifically to help develop and design our green propositions," he said.

"We needed the MBS training program to provide our bankers both with the why, why is climate risk important to our customers? And the how, what sort of things can our customers do to help them transition?"

Taking part in the program helped James and his colleagues develop the Agri Green Loan, which allows farmers and other regional businesses to fund solar panel and tree-planting projects that reduce fertiliser emissions, protect soil and conserve water.

Less than 12 months after launch, the loans are already being used for major projects that make a positive impact in Australian communities.

"I am from the country and live regionally as well, I'm really passionate about regional communities and helping our customers thrive," said Naomi Stuart, State Business Bank Executive for ACT and Southern NSW, who also took part in the program.

"We have one of our customers, which is Tahbilk Winery, and through the Agri Green Loan, we were able to assist them with the purchase and installation of a 300-kilowatt solar project."

Understanding the needs of customers

Naomi said there was an increasing expectation from farmers and other agricultural clients for bankers to have the knowledge and products they need to tackle climate change.

"Our customers are looking to us to be able to have conversations with them and to understand what's going on their farm and in their operations," she said.

For James, the Melbourne Business School program helped him articulate what NAB needs to do to support its rural and regional customers.

"Having a green product creates focus, it creates attention, and it aligns our efforts towards a very important goal for our customers and the bank," he said.

"The MBS team spent a lot of time with NAB to really understand our existing capabilities and our requirements and design a program tailored to our specific requirements and where we sat as a bank."

In designing the program, the Centre for Sustainability and Business worked closely with NAB to give its agribusiness bankers a thorough understanding of climate change and how farmers could address it, said Centre Director Professor Glenn Hoetker.

"We started just with the basic science of what causes climate change. What impacts will it have? What impacts is it already having? Then we talked in broad terms about how businesses can both mitigate the contributions to climate change, but also adapt to the effects it's already having," he said.

"Lastly, and this was really the critical part, we translated that to the specifics of how can the bank support its clients as they make that transition. So from the science, to the business, to the NAB-specific."

A renewed sense of purpose

As well as benefiting customers, the program has also helped Naomi and James reconnect with their passion for making a difference in the agricultural sector.

"Agriculture is something that NAB has supported for 160 years," said James.

"If we want to keep supporting this sector long term, we know that climate adaptation and resilience are going to have to be critical components of how we support the sector over time to help our customers respond to the challenges and the opportunities that come from the new, emerging green economy."

Having grown up on a farm and still living in rural New South Wales, Naomi gets a special pleasure from supporting farmers at the frontline of climate change.

"I love living in a regional community and seeing how my job in banking can help those customers achieve their dreams," she said.

Helping bankers like James and Naomi increase their impact was a satisfying outcome for the Centre for Sustainability and Business team as well, said Professor Hoetker.

"Farming, agriculture more broadly, is a really large contributor to greenhouse gases around the world," he said.

"In Australia, it's about 15 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions. So we're very excited that we've set the stage for those loans to have greater impact than they would otherwise."

To learn more about climate education and research at Melbourne Business School, visit our Centre for Sustainability and Business page.

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