Sustainability: Learning can power the transition

Having been with ABN AMRO for 33 years, Peter van der Werf is the embodiment of learning and development. As a mortgage business expert at the bank, he experienced first-hand how learning about sustainability helped his mortgage advisors’ self-confidence grow. Learning about measures to make homes more sustainable was like the missing puzzle piece that enabled them to go the extra mile for customers. As one of the driving forces behind Circl Academy, now Peter’s helping all his 20,000 colleagues to integrate sustainability in their profession. A great example of how learning can power the transition! 

What is Circl Academy?
“That’s ABN AMRO’s employee learning platform, set up to create sustainable impact. Since not yet everyone knows how they can contribute to the bank’s sustainability strategy in their daily work, we’re making online learning accessible from our head office here in Zuidas to our colleagues around the world. The focus isn’t purely on knowledge but also on activities that seek to inspire and motivate in order to advance the sustainability movement.”


What do you mean by “advance the sustainability movement” in this context?
“As an organization, we have firmly embedded sustainability in our purpose and our strategy. More and more of our people are gaining a solid grasp on how they can contribute to this in their daily work. We believe that by motivating our workforce to learn about sustainability as an issue, they’ll invest in themselves. The crux is the word ‘motivate’. Wanting to learn is crucial to be able to take on the continuing changes surrounding sustainability. We’re doing that by offering a wide mix of inspiration, activities, learning and connection. We support colleagues to get relevant training, do inspiring team workshops and reflect on the role each person plays in the transition. For instance, we’ve got a guided audio tour, called the Purpose Walk, and our Kickstarter workshop. The aim is, on the one hand, to spark ideas about what people can and want to do with sustainability, and on the other to also galvanize them into action. We help people see what impact they have and what more they can do to enhance it.”

How do you know you’re making an impact with employees?
“In the employee engagement survey we took at the end of 2020, we saw a link between employees who completed a Circl Academy course and those who indicated they were able to contribute to the bank’s sustainability strategy. We’re quite proud of that result! Our goal was to support employees to translate that strategy to their day-to-day work, and they’re increasingly feeling that support. That’s true not only for those who are in direct contact with customers, but also for people who want to draw on their expertise or focus area to create impact.”

Why is learning about sustainability so important, in your view?
“Sustainability is about building a society that’s resilient for the future. If you want to maintain that resiliency, you have to make the effort to stay relevant. You can see this in developments around sustainability, too, with the speed at which things are going – not a day goes by without some kind of news on that front. Only look at the announced EU regulation. Personal leadership is key to anticipating these developments in a timely and effective way. By facilitating good learning and development for your whole workforce – from young talent and green frontrunners to veteran bankers – your organization is better positioned to stay relevant. We call that being a ‘future-proof bank’. Solid and especially repeated employee upskilling is an essential part of that. As we say in Circl Academy: learning is the engine that accelerates the transition. All around us, we’re seeing companies with similar needs. Which makes sense, because the transition to a sustainable society involves us all. To learn, you need an open attitude, and at Circl Academy we’re well aware we don’t have all the knowledge. That’s why we’re in regular contact with academies at other organizations, to trade ideas and best practices. Those are fascinating conversations. We need collaboration to bring about the sustainable transition and to be able to create impact in society and the world we live in. Not only within organizations, but even more so outside them.”