Circl Academy: teaching sustainability in theory and putting it into practice

ABN AMRO’s sustainability strategy and ambitions enjoy enthusiastic support from the bank’s employees. The Circl Academy was recently set up to further improve the general level of understanding of sustainability.

Henriëlle van den Dragt and her six colleagues have been given responsibility by ABN AMRO for shaping the Circl Academy, a new ‘training ground’ that the bank launched in mid-October. Just how important sustainability is for everyone at ABN AMRO became clear when the handful of roles within the Academy attracted a huge amount of interest. Two information sessions both drew a large audience, and many of the bank’s people applied for a place on the team.

Trading in knowledge

Henriëlle was one of the lucky few, and now she and her colleagues look for ways to help people learn more about sustainability and what the bank’s ambitions are. “An internal survey showed that our people have difficulty figuring out how sustainability can be used in their jobs,” explains Henriëlle. “Even though they’re firm supporters of sustainability and are eager to apply it in practice.”

The Circl Academy consists of an online platform and offline knowledge sessions. The digital environment, which will be available in November, includes training modules, articles and video clips, with podcasts to be added in the future, intended to improve the general understanding of sustainability among the bank’s people. The principal topics of climate, circularity and social impact are examined in a ‘Netflix-like’ manner, Henriëlle explains. Trading in knowledge is how she describes it.


The Academy will also organise ‘expeditions’ for various groups within the bank. “We’ll start with a pilot, that hopefully will help the green leader groups within the bank to give shape to their roles as ambassadors and examples for others to follow. We’re also working on an expedition for the early majority: people with an intrinsic motivation, separate from their role or position within the bank, to do more with sustainability.”

Those groups will be invited to attend multi-day offsite sessions. Henriëlle continues, “It’s not a case of spending one day being inspirational and then leaving people to sort it out for themselves. Instead, the sessions are about teaching people how to share what they’ve learned. What we want is to create permanent change.”

Various initiatives to achieve this are already in place, such as the Purpose Walk, which involves walking around with headphones and listening to inspirational stories about the bank’s goals, and the role that the bank’s people play. Another example is the Green Guide, an interactive document that describes ABN AMRO’s sustainability initiatives.

Doing something

During the first period, the Circl Academy’s online platform will focus on explaining the bank’s strategy: what are ABN AMRO’s ambitions, why is the bank pursuing them, and what are the existing efforts? One thing is certain, the Circl Academy’s ambitions are not modest. The initiative hopes to reach every one of the bank’s 20,000 people: they need to know about sustainability and what they can do to help. Henriëlle describes her dream of a universally supported ‘sustainability movement’: “What we hope to achieve is to get everyone up and doing something.”