By Reem Haddad

In 2009, BankMed came out with a supposedly short term idea: to support some environmental projects. But the demand for projects rained on them and they found themselves adopting a challenging Corporate Social Responsibly cause: encouraging Lebanon to go ‘green’.

Today and through a heavy unprecedented campaign dubbed ‘A Happy Planet’, BankMed has become a major player in sponsoring and encouraging green projects throughout the country.

Little did BankMed employees know that one day they would be setting the trend for a company – a bank nevertheless – to turn philanthropic. And little did administrators realize that a small idea to support a few environment projects would end up a permanent feature in their company.

Somehow BankMed and its employees have become the die-hard champions of the environment – even to the extent of financing a hybrid car and donating it to the Ministry of Environment in an effort to get ecological cars approved in Lebanon (it needs a governmental decree which has yet pass).

Meanwhile, BankMed employees are donning jeans and shirts and joining all kinds of environmental clean-up efforts.

It all started in 2009 when BankMed chairman, Mohammed Hariri, suggested supporting a few environmental projects in Lebanon. It was a goodwill gesture that would probably last a few months or a year at most. It was, after all, part of their corporate social responsibility.

But no sooner than the Bank began advertising for a cleaner environment in Lebanon than projects practically rained in on them.

“The need to support environmental projects was so huge,” said Muhieddine Fathallah, Head of the Business Development who – along with five other bank employees – is responsible for approving potential ‘green’ projects that come their way, “that we didn’t know how to stop.”

Not their real jobs but someone has to do it…

The committee members are all fulltime employees with their own jobs and responsibilities at the bank. Few had first-hand knowledge about the tragic environmental issues in the country. But suddenly they found themselves working – on the side – on environmental ventures. Soon enough, they had not only taken a keen interest in the neglected Lebanese environment but had adopted the cause and began to support all lobbying efforts. They realized that it was their chance to make a difference in the country.

“Most people know the importance of having a clean environment,” stated Diala Choucair, the Head of Marketing in a specially designed BankMed environment brochure, “but do not realize that it takes only a few steps or gestures to make a difference.”

A Happy Planet
Under the umbrella of the ‘Happy Planet Campaign’, all sorts of environmental projects were launched with a heavy emphasis on awareness campaigns. A “Happy Planet” theme – green leaves – were added to the bank’s blue and white logo.

A major press campaign invited the public to join BankMed in its green cause “for the children of tomorrow”. Green visuals were placed throughout the country. As an extra boost, local celebrities were asked to join the efforts by appearing in ‘green’ ads stressing the need to protect nature.

Under the theme of “getting our hands green”, BankMed launched its many projects: Clean Shores, Green Forests, Green Cars, Solar Energy, and Green Banking. Basically, the bank was pushing everyone to “think Green.”

In coordination with NGOs like Big Blue Operation, BankMed not only sponsored clean-up efforts of the Lebanese shorelines and rivers, but asked their own employees to join in the work. And in an effort to involve the public, BankMed declared that all its cardholders will be indirectly assisting the clean-up by simply using their cards. The venture was launched in 2011 and is scheduled to last for over a year. So far, three rivers have been cleaned up.

“Cleaning the rivers was horrifying,” said Fathallah. “We had no idea they were so filthy. It was very shocking for us.”

And the projects continue…

Other projects included: Carbon Neutral where every company monitors its amount of direct and indirect CO2 emissions and accordingly pay taxes, (so far only five companies – including BankMed have complied), the introduction of the cleanest and most ecological car into the Lebanese market (Hybrid car), the reforestation of the Al Shouf Cedar reserve and launching an advertising campaign about the reserve which increased tourism by 35 %, a landscaping nursery (in coordination with AUB) in Akkar to revive interest in Lebanon’s native flora, and the planting of more than 2000 cedar trees in Eyoun Ergoch in north Lebanon in an effort to fight against widespread deforestation across the country, the sponsoring of municipalities’ efforts in reforesting projects and the lighting up the St. Therese monastery in Keserwan using solar panels.

Children and youth were especially targeted with specially designed programs which cater to schools including providing water filters for public schools, launching ‘Agendati’ (printing 70,000 copies of Agendas for public school children which includes environmental tips for kids on every page), sponsoring school and science competitions across the country (in the first year, 4000 students participated and today 15,000 students participate with the winners honored at a special reception at BankMed’s headquarters), sponsoring special ‘green workshops’ such as the Little Engineer where children learn to use a renewable energy source and supporting recycling paper projects.

On the side, BankMed also launched its own Happy Planet website and became renowned for sponsoring environment projects such as the Garden Show and Souk al Tayeb.
In fact, today, there is rarely an environment project in the country that BankMed doesn’t sponsor one way or another.
Moreover, the bank grants soft loans to any eco-friendly green architecture projects and finances vital projects to reduce air pollution and rationalize energy consumption in Lebanon.

The effectiveness of such campaigns can only be measured in the long run,” continued Choucair. “We are not here to make a profit or sell more products. We are simply trying to raise the awareness level behind this global ecological problem we are all facing. The end result is one we will all witness in the long run.”

The zealous environmental work of the bank has caught international attention thanks to foreign journalists and is now being cited in many nations.

“It’s up to all of us to take the positive points in the country and make the needed changes,” said Fathallah. “A lot of people care and a lot of them are working for a better future. We all need to get involved.”