1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Project: Sustainable Development Performance Indicators

Impact Story > Changing the Practice of Sustainability Reporting at GLS Bank

  • Project from: 2018 to 2022

With a set of indicators that look at areas of business performance associated with equality, distributive justice, use of economic power and influence, and consumption of natural resources, the UNRISD project on Sustainable Development Performance Indicators (SDPI) helps economic entities gauge whether their operations are consistent with the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

At GLS Bank, which has pilot tested the SDPIs, sustainability reporting is getting a substantial overhaul as a result of lessons learned through participation in the project. According to the bank’s Impact Transparency and Sustainability Unit, “this was an incredibly exciting and enriching path, in which we have learned a lot”.

GLS Bank was the first social-ecological bank in Germany, founded in 1974. Through its banking services GLS supports a variety of projects and businesses from organic farms and health food stores to nursing homes, independent schools and kindergartens, and projects for the unemployed.

In its 2020 sustainability report, GLS Bank describes how the SDPI perspective has shaped the bank's "learning journey", and its report, substantially. The perspective puts sustainability in a global context and proposes indicators for budgets (that is, thresholds or allocations) and for norms. Budgets apply for everything with an ecological boundary that must not be exceeded. So, for example, reducing my CO2 emissions is not itself sustainable. It only becomes sustainable if I know that I am not exceeding my share of the remaining global CO2 budget, to achieve the 1.5°C target. Norms are used to define a framework of societal foundations, e.g. access to education and social justice. The sustainability report examines the bank’s impacts on different capitals (which it calls “values”)—human beings, nature, relationships, knowledge, money, and attitudes and opinions—taking budgets as well as ideal states into consideration.

GLS Bank has set its performance objectives for wage range, gender pay gap, and water consumption in line with the context-based approach and specific targets set out in the SDPIs.

An unadjusted gender pay gap (GPG) of a maximum of 3 percent, and a wage range between the highest and lowest salary of 30:1 are considered sustainable within the framework of the SDPIs and have been adopted by GLS Bank as its targets. In Germany, the unadjusted GPG is 21 percent, which means that women earn an average of 21 percent less than men. In the financial sector, this difference is even more pronounced, at 28 percent. For GLS Bank, the unadjusted GPG is 13.7 percent. Here GLS Bank acknowledges that "Even though we are thus on the right track in an industry and national comparison, we have a need for further action taking into account the international ideal state...of 3 percent." GLS Bank already performs well regarding wage range, with a ratio of 8.2:1.

According to the SDPIs, net resource consumption shall not exceed the facility-specific fair and proportionate allocation of locally available renewable resources. The sustainability targets or thresholds that the bank has defined for its water consumption, for example, are aligned with this sustainability criterion, based on hydrological knowledge of what the maximum allowable water consumption should be in order to avoid endangering natural resources (ecosystems and species). As part of its SDPI piloting, GLS Bank assessed the sustainability of its water use at its headquarters, finding that it was well within the sustainability threshold in 2020 while recognizing "But we also know that in 2020 only a few people have worked in the bank. The majority worked mobile from home, which could not be taken into account in the calculation."

See the GLS Bank 2021 Sustainability Report here (in German).

Photo taken from https://nachhaltigkeitsbericht.gls-bank.de/ (c) GLS Bank