New Green Radicals: Bevis Watts

After a career which has taken in roles at both waste and recycling body WRAP and conservation group the Avon Wildlife Trust, Bevis Watts returned to sustainable bank Triodos as managing director in 2016.

Since May this year, he has been CEO of the UK arm of the bank, which only finances companies that focus on people, the environment or culture, and offers an ethical current account for UK consumers.

bevis watts triodos sustainable bank ceo

Do you think it’s important we respond to the climate emergency?

Yes, now is the time to make fundamental changes. We are in a state of climate emergency and the banking industry needs to radically transform to be part of the solution.

How would you define a green radical?

For me, green radicals are people, or organisations, who selflessly put the planet first. They work tirelessly to raise awareness, provide solutions, and constantly challenge how things are done.

Why do you think we need green radicals at a time like this?

We need to get people talking and raising awareness of climate and environmental issues. We must also find people to inspire us and to find new solutions to pressing problems. We seem to be at a watershed moment – there’s been a huge leap forward in public consciousness recently, where so many of us have tried and failed to engage people for many years.

Do you regard your company as a green radical?

I am ‘the first environmentalist to run a UK bank’, which indicates that people think combining environmental and societal concerns with banking is radical.

Triodos is trying to redefine the way banking is done. We are a global pioneer in sustainable banking, using the power of finance to invest in businesses, entrepreneurs, and projects that are positive for people and the planet. We do a lot of advocacy work too – starting conversations about how to change the financial system on a national, European, and global scale. Put simply, we’re working to both finance change and change finance.

How has your organisation taken a radical approach to climate action?

For nearly 25 years here in the UK, and 40 in Europe, Triodos Bank has taken a positive approach to sustainable lending – identifying pioneering environmental and social sectors. For example, we helped finance Ecotricity’s first wind turbine in 1996 and, more recently, the UK’s largest community-owned solar farm in Warwickshire. We’re also known as the organic bank for financing many leading organic brands and farms, as well as the Soil Association itself. Triodos has also supported those seeking to reconnect people and the environment, notably supporting the pioneers of care farms in the UK.

In terms of global impact, we actively contributed to the development of the UN Principles for Responsible Banking and were a founder signatory. We also helped develop a standard method of carbon accounting, which has now been adopted by more than 50 financial institutions worldwide, and became the first bank to publish the carbon footprint of our loan book.

How do you inspire others to radicalism?

As a bank, we want to support those delivering change whilst also finding new ways of doing so. For example, in 2018 we became the first UK bank to have our own investment crowdfunding platform – triodoscrowdfunding.co.uk. Our customers constantly inspire us to continue what we’re doing, and we aim to share stories of their successes to encourage others.

Our recent marketing campaign ‘Change your bank, change the world’ saw us take a more radical tone too. With the help of customer Lily Cole, we asked people to think about what their money is funding. Since

the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, UK banks have pumped nearly £150bn into fossil fuels. We wanted to encourage people to help raise awareness of this figure, question what their own money is being used for, and – ultimately – move it.

What’s the secret to taking a radical idea mainstream?

For entrepreneurs or businesses, it’s key to have belief in the idea and for it to be well researched. Yet, it’s also vital to have support, including financial support. Businesses need finance to push forward with new ideas and innovations.

Which area of the economy do you think is most in need of radical change?

Banking and finance. The financial industry needs to radically transform to be part of the solution to the climate emergency. Banks should be using the money deposited with them in their customers’ long- term interests – both in terms of keeping it secure but also in thinking about the environmental and social implications of how it is invested. This is the interests of banks themselves because they will also be exposed the increased financial risks of climate change, biodiversity loss and soil degradation.

We’d like to see greater transparency from all banks in where they are investing their money and real progress towards reporting their impact against the Sustainable Development Goals.

Who are the other green radicals that inspire you today?

I have been working in sustainability for over 20 years now. The original inspiration came from studying in Sweden for a year in the mid-90s, which was like living in the future in how they recycled, considered the natural environment in business, and how much time they spent in nature. It is no surprise to me that Sweden has provided us with Greta Thunberg.

What one radical thing would you like people to do right now to change our future?

I’d like people to think about their money and question the institutions managing it. If we channel our combined capital into projects working for
real environmental change, just think about the collective impact that all of our savings, pensions and investments can have.

This interview forms part of a series of interviews that were published in a new report, New Green Radicals: The business leaders responding to the climate emergency. The report follows last year’s ‘Meet the Disruptors’ and 2017’s ‘Secrets of the Pioneers’ reports, and this year features interviews with entrepreneurs, leaders and creators who are providing radical solutions to the climate crisis.

The report is produced by Greenhouse PR in association with BusinessGreen and was launched at the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit on October 23rd. Follow live on social media with #NewGreenRadicals.

At Greenhouse, we support a wide variety of organisations pioneering climate action. Whether it’s fashion, finance or farming, if you’ve got a great story and need our help to tell it, get in touch with the Greenhouse team on 0117 214 1250 or email info@greenhousepr.co.uk.

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