In the evolving landscape of business financing, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria have become pivotal in the assessment process for traditional bank loans. Australian banks are increasingly integrating ESG factors into their lending decisions, reflecting a global shift towards sustainable finance. This article delves into the ESG requirements and assessments that businesses face when seeking loans from Australian banks, highlighting some practices adopted by the nation’s leading financial institutions.

At a high, strategic level, Australian banks employ a variety of ESG risk management strategies to ensure responsible lending and investment practices. Some specific examples:

  • Integration into Risk Frameworks: ESG risks are integrated into existing risk management frameworks to ensure a systematic approach to responsible corporate lending.
  • ESG in Credit Analysis: ESG risks are included in credit risk analysis at the customer and transaction level, as well as at the portfolio level, to inform lending and investment decisions.
  • High-Risk Sector Lists: Banks maintain lists of high-risk ESG sectors and sensitive areas to guide their bankers and procurement professionals on sectors with higher inherent exposure to ESG-related risks.

These strategies are part of a broader commitment to sustainable development goals and align with international standards and regulatory expectations. They help banks navigate the complex landscape of ESG risks and ensure that their practices contribute positively to society and the environment.

Major Australian banks have integrated ESG risks into their standard risk frameworks for credit risk analysis. This integration allows them to assess and manage the potential impact of environmental, social, and governance factors on their lending activities. Banks such as the National Australia Bank (NAB), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), Westpac, and ANZ are known for their efforts in incorporating ESG considerations into their credit risk assessments.

These banks have developed methodologies to include ESG performance and disclosures in the assessment of borrowers’ creditworthiness, reflecting a broader industry trend towards sustainable finance and responsible banking practices. NAB takes a risk-based approach to managing ESG issues, which is integrated into their Risk Management Strategy and Framework. CBA has developed an ESG Risk Assessment Tool that is integral to the lending decision process. Westpac seeks to understand the potential for sustainability-related risks to impact credit risk by reviewing their Risk Management Framework, Risk Management Strategy, Sustainability Risk Management Framework, risk appetite measures, and policies. ANZ also assesses and manages the social and environmental impacts of their lending decisions through the application of their Social and Environmental Risk Policy.

The integration of ESG risks helps these institutions align their financial activities with societal and environmental objectives, ensuring that their operations support a sustainable future. Some examples of key ESG and cross-cutting aspects commonly considered are:

Climate Change Risks:

  • Banks assess the impact of climate change on the value of assets used as collateral and the borrower’s ability to repay loans. This includes evaluating physical risks like extreme weather events and transition risks associated with moving to a less emissions-intensive economy.

Community Impact:

  • The potential social impact of the borrower’s business activities on local communities is evaluated. This includes considerations of employment practices, community engagement, and social inclusivity.

Corporate Governance:

  • Banks examine the borrower’s governance structures, policies, and practices, including board composition, executive remuneration, and transparency in reporting.

Sustainability Reporting:

  • Banks look for alignment with global standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) to ensure transparency and accountability in ESG reporting.

ESG Risk Management:

  • The integration of ESG risk management into day-to-day operations is assessed, focusing on sectors with higher exposure to ESG-related risks.

These ESG aspects help banks determine the sustainability and responsibility of the businesses they finance, ensuring that their lending practices align with broader societal goals and regulatory expectations. The Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority are actively involved in shaping the ESG framework within which banks operate, further emphasizing the importance of these factors in the financial sector.

A “no risk appetite” list is a tool used by financial institutions to outline the types of businesses or activities they are unwilling to finance due to associated environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks. This list typically includes sectors and activities that are considered to have a higher inherent exposure to ESG-related risks or are misaligned with the bank’s sustainability goals.

For example, the National Australia Bank (NAB) maintains a “High-Risk ESG Sectors and Sensitive Areas” list as part of its ESG risk management framework. This list helps guide bankers and procurement professionals by indicating sectors and activities where the bank has restricted or no risk appetite. In a similar manner and for a similar purpose, to guide decision-making and ensure alignment with the bank’s ESG risk appetite, ANZ holds a list of ‘sensitive sector’ requirements.


Australian banks are at the forefront of incorporating ESG criteria into their lending practices. As the world moves towards a more sustainable future, these practices are expected to become even more integral to the banking industry. Businesses seeking traditional loans must be prepared to meet the ESG requirements set forth by banks, which not only reflect a commitment to sustainability but also a response to the growing demand from consumers and investors for responsible finance.

At Fifth Eagle, we work with you and your business to set you up for the future, by strategically identifying, implementing and addressing all ESG aspects that emerge in a conversation with your bank, your customers, your supply chain and your community. Give us a call!

Dr Adrian Vaida