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Handelsbanken appoints new Head of Sustainability

On 1 September, Catharina Belfrage Sahlstrand takes up the position of Head of Sustainability at Handelsbanken.
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On 1 September, Catharina Belfrage Sahlstrand takes up the position of Head of Sustainability at Handelsbanken. Here, she talks about her new assignment and the importance of including all parts of the Bank in the sustainability mission. She also discusses which sustainability topics will likely be top of the agenda looking forward.

As you take up your new position in September, what are your expectations?

The main purpose and objective of our sustainability work is to benefit our customers, maintain a low risk level, add value for society as a whole and generations to come. Based on this, I have great expectations for what we, as a bank, should, and will be able to, achieve. Our business model is renowned for being sustainable, but the world is facing monumental sustainability challenges, so we need to increase our ambitions and efforts in this area. 

I’m very much looking forward to working on the long-term strategies that we have put in place  for Handelsbanken to be able to both adapt and contribute as we inevitably move towards a more sustainable world and economy. 

What, in particular, do you see as crucial in order for Handelsbanken to be successful in its sustainability work? 

We have a great starting point with colleagues around the bank that have deep knowledge and expertise in the sustainability area. But if we are to succeed in our ambition to become the most sustainable bank in the industry with sustainability as an integral part of everything we do, it is my belief that everyone at the Bank must feel included and empowered in our sustainability effort. The only way to get there is through knowledge and conviction throughout the whole Bank. I aim to demonstrate the importance of sustainability for our business throughout the bank, and strongly encourage initiatives at the branches to contribute on a local and regional level.

What do you see as the main sustainability topic for the Bank in the near future?

I am not much for ranking sustainability topics. If we look at the Sustainable Development Goals, they are described as integrated and indivisible. Important sustainability topics include social and economic issues, such as the fight against poverty, ensuring the right to education, gender equality, and anti-corruption. However, I do think that the climate issue will dominate and heavily impact our business, as well as the work by other market participants. A number of international agreements and initiatives, particularly from the EU, place high expectations on the financial sector when it comes to  environmental and climate issues. 

What will these climate-related requirements mean, in more concrete terms?

We will be required to increase the transparency of what we finance, among other things. The demands will also act as a driving force for banks to finance and invest in companies that can, and want to, be part of a sustainable, profitable economy. We must also – which is fully in line with our low risk preference – understand and address the fact that climate risk is not fully priced-in in the economy of today. 

But sustainability isn’t just about complying with requirements. A growing part of our business opportunities can only be seized if we make this transition and are able to offer sustainable products and services. Among the future winners will be companies that work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, find ways to increase carbon sequestration, or come up with solutions for how society can adapt to the inevitable consequences of climate change.

Catharina Belgrage

About Catharina

Name: Catharina Belfrage Sahlstrand
Age: 39
Background: Lawyer with many years’ experience from the Mannheimer Swartling law firm, before joining Handelsbanken Debt Capital Markets, where she is currently responsible for sustainable business development, and Head of the Sustainable Finance team.

Commitments: Board member of Optimizer Foundation, an impact investor with a focus on start-ups that offer solutions to social problems, with a focus on emerging markets, health and education. Co-founder of OmPolitik, a non-profit organisation which promotes and facilitates activities within party politics and democratic functions.

Lives in: Lidingö
Family: Married with two sons
Interests: Since childhood: bugs and insects. In her own garden, what started with a bee hotel quickly turned into a complete focus on biological diversity on a micro scale.