Aleksandra Kosanović Strižak / Foto: Erste Bank
Aleksandra Kosanović Strižak / Foto: Erste Bank

One of the topics that is in the focus of this year’s Bitef festival is a current burning issue - climate change and the destruction of the ecosystem. Numerous scientists around the world and scientific studies warn us that climate disaster is not close but that we are actually living it. What is it that we as individuals can do to help protect the environment? How do you as a company raise social awareness about this problem?

I like to quote David Attenborough. “Time is running out. Climate change could lead to the collapse of civilization and the extinction of much of the natural world.”

The environment is an exceptionally important sphere of our society, which unfortunately cannot speak for itself. This is precisely why it is important for us all to understand that unless we do something, we will not fare well. The calculation is simple - one day nature will blow the final whistle. Without an opportunity for a rematch. We are all together responsible for leaving some new, possibly kids born just now a world that is increasingly warmer, extreme weather, rising water levels, destroyed flora and fauna, new diseases - to list just a few. Banks in general do not belong to the group of large polluters, but that does not free us of our responsibility to the community, clients, partners and employees. We have been addressing this topic at the strategic level, continuously. Long ago we defined the three priority areas of the Bank’s activity: responsible resources management, responsible financing, and raising employee awareness about environmental protection. Not to go into the details of each of the priorities, I will list just some of the activities that we are undertaking in an effort to reduce the negative impact wherever it is possible, and to use innovative solutions to contribute to the improvement of the environment and sustainability. We equip branch offices and management buildings with ecological furniture, we print on recycled paper, we use energy-saving light bulbs, we recycle paper, plastic, glass and electronic IT equipment. We also don’t throw anything into scrap metal, but rather we try to donate surplus furniture, office and IT equipment, while using recycled PVC sheeting from billboards to make laptop bags, wallets and other promotional material that we use or gift to clients and partners. And before I forget -last year green energy accounted for 70% of the energy used by the Bank, and I believe that this year it will be even higher. Recognizing climate change as one of the largest global challenges of society today, we are dedicated to financing different projects for improving energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

Financing is based on the project’s study of the environmental impact on the community where the development is taking place, approval of the local authorities, compliance with all local laws and regulations, as well as meeting specific standards for financing in this area.

How important is it for large companies to support and take part in projects that address current social topics? Do you think that it is only through joint action and intermingling of the commercial and cultural sector that we can avoid this “edge” of the future?

The path to a sustainable future is long, and intersectoral cooperation is necessary. If we want to live and work in a healthy society that is continuously and sustainably developing in a way that improves quality of life for all its members, we have to think wider about our decisions and actions. For us at Erste Bank, social responsibility represents a long-term strategic commitment, and it applies to our overall scope and influence because the decisions that we make and actions that we take don’t affect only us, but society at large. I’m primarily thinking of the products and services that we provide, the way that we hire and affect the respect of human and labour rights, how much we invest in the local community, how we contribute to the protection of the environment. We are actually aware of our responsibility to employees, clients, partners and other stakeholders, which is why we listen to them carefully, consult them and get involved in the decision-making process. The topic that Bitef is addressing is a burning one, therefore every initiative and activity represents a move in the good direction, because everything starts with personal commitment and mobilisation of all those who can contribute one way or another to raising awareness of the problem. It is clear that we must work together to achieve much more.

Bitef has launched the #počniodsebe action on social networks, where members of the team present their small habits that help protect the environment. Do you and your employees have similar activities?

We have been informing and educating colleagues for years about the importance of saving energy, the significance of recycling, the importance of preserving nature and the environment that we live in. Plastic bags and PVC bottles were banished long ago. We installed recycling sets on every floor of the administrative buildings, we have installed bike racks in garages since we are a bike-friendly bank, we motivate our employee to walk whenever it is possible, we support car-pooling (several co-workers who live in the same neighbourhood taking a single car), we have cut back on air travel, replacing it with online conferences and meetings, we get eco-gifts for anniversaries and holidays, and what we look forward to the most and what we enjoy are volunteer actions. In the past ten years our employees have cleaned up many picnic areas, nature reserves and parks throughout Serbia, and those are always the most popular actions, with everyone taking part - from the bank president and members of the Executive Board to employees’ children. The current health situation has slowed us down a bit, but 2022 is around the corner, so we’re gearing up.

Bitef festival is proud of its long-standing cooperation with Erste Bank. This cooperation has resulted in numerous successful activities and we believe that through our joint public appearances we have created the image of a desirable model of cooperation between large companies and cultural events. What does this cooperation represent to you?

We are even prouder. We loved the Bitef from Mira [Trailović]’s times, then Jovan [Ćirilov]’s times, and now you have come along, some new kids, who have made it even more engaged, even more current, more important - a festival that points things out, shake things up, scorns, awakens and touches a new digital generation. We are proud of that. You didn’t stop, and you could have. Bitef has such a long and deep-rooted tradition that you could have taken advantage the accolades of the past for a long time, maintaining it that way. The audiences would come. This way you have done the impossible - with your specific model, clear attitude and new voice you have connected the old and new audience into a common denominator - the Bitef audience. That is why we are there with you - because we share those same value. And we are looking toward the same future - a sustainable one.