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Banco Santander. Committed to the Environment


Banco Santander, close to nature

Banco Santander’s history is tied to the communities it serves. It aims to contribute to social and economic progress through activities to protect, conserve and restore the environment.

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Biodiversity in Santander’s world
Banco Santander applies a social and environmental policy to its business inspired by best practice, as set out in conventions, protocols, codes of conduct and internationally applicable guidelines on the subject, promoted by institutions such as the United Nations, OECD, and others.

Indeed, the bank has taken on many international environmental commitments, such as the Equator Principles, the United Nations Environment Programme Financial Initiative, the Carbon Disclosure Project, the Banking Environment Initiative, and the Round Table on Responsible Soy. The bank has also contributed to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).

In its financial business, the bank adds other specific lines of action to these globally recognised guidelines, primarily in relation to defence, energy, water and forestry sectors. Banking is no stranger to protecting the environment.
Analysing the social and environmental risks entailed by credit operations and decision-making on lending operations come under this heading, for example. Banco Santander also promotes financial solutions aiming to protect the environment, such as renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

Ciudad del Grupo Santander. / Photo courtesy of Santander Universities Global Division.

Moreover, the importance of biodiversity, etched into the bank’s conscience, involves exhaustive control over the consumption and emissions of the financial groups’ facilities around the world. The Ciudad Grupo Santander, the bank’s headquarters, set in the countryside in Boadilla del Monte, deserves a separate mention. This site was designed to take the need to preserve and improve the natural environment very much into account.

Ciudad Grupo Santander occupies a 250 hectare site, of which 170 hectares are green space, and it was designed to combine functionality with respect for the environment. Its environmental impact has been minimised through its low building density, low-rise buildings, and siting of car parks underground. And to raise its energy efficiency, the buildings have been aligned to maximise the use of natural resources: the sun’s light and heat. Efficient management of water resources also ensures significant savings in water consumption.

One of the key features of the Ciudad Grupo Santander is its gardens, with 21,000 trees of various types – olives, which are the symbol of the town, cork oaks, American oaks, poplars, ashes and fruit trees– and a million bushes, ground cover plants and herbs.

Unesco Professorship activity. Positioning a fish cage from a boat in Cadiz. / Photo courtesy of Santander Universities Global Division.

It combines open spaces, wooded areas, shrubberies and lakes, creating a perfect environment for various different species to coexist. So far over 60 species have been identified, which often live in interconnected natural habitats.
The creatures most sensitive to human presence, such as Granada hares, red-legged partridges, pipits and chiffchaffs take refuge in the shrub areas. In the open areas, other birds such as wagtails, hoopoes, white storks, starlings, house martins and swallows can be seen. And in the more densely wooded areas, sparrows, blackbirds, finches, nightingales, robins, serins, kestrels, little owls, and black kites predominate. The lakes and streams have permanent bird colonies: coots, moorhens, tufted ducks, little grebes, and ruddy shelducks.

Just as the bank’s concern for the environment has shaped the design and management of its facilities, it has also led its banking business to be directly involved in environmental and social welfare projects in the countries in which it operates.

These include initiatives like the Mexican reforestation programme, Reforestamos México, which planted 3.5 hectares of trees in three years Ciudad Grupo Santander was designed to combine functionality and respect for the environmentof “Jornadas de Reforestación con Santander” tree-planting days. The most important environmental effort ever in Puerto Rico, the International Coastal Cleanup Day, was sponsored by Banco Santander, which also organised its own team of volunteers to collect various types of harmful waste from the coast.

In Brazil, projects such as Fondo Floresta Real stand out. This institution began in 2008 and aims to offset the bank’s carbon emissions in the country. As well as promoting tree planting –in 2011 a total of 63 thousand were planted– the bank monitors its work to observe the benefits for the community over time. Another idea, Projeto Corredor Ecológico, includes Banco Santander Brasil as a founding member and aims to restore 150 thousand hectares of tropical forest in the River Paraíba basin, south of São Paulo.

Hand in hand with academia and researchers. Santander Universities Global Division’s activities, which provides the backbone to Banco Santander’s social activities and allows it to maintain a stable partnership with almost 1,020 academic institutions in 17 countries, includes support to research in all areas that scientists consider of interest, including the environment.

In this context, the bank is backing the Fundación General CSIC’s Projectos Cero on threatened species, and is supporting five studies whose primary aim is to preserve biodiversity. The bank did not hesitate a moment when it came to backing the initiatives selected by the panel of judges. The selected projects are led by researchers Lluís Brotons, from the Centre Tecnológic Forestal de Catalunya (CTFC), Pablo Vargas, from the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid (CSIC), Annie Marchordom, from the Museo de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), José Antonio Godoy, from the Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC), and Jaime Bosch Pérez, from the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC).

Activity of the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC). Taking a saliva sample for microbiological analysis. / Photo: courtesy of Santander Universities Global Division.

Banco Santander also sponsors other centres to take forward their ideas in this field. These include the UNESCO professorship of Sustainable Coastal Development at the University of Cádiz, the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC), under the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), and the University of Castile-La Mancha and the Castile-La Mancha Regional Government.

Jorge Cassinello, who heads the IREC, the only Spanish research institution with the remit to balance ecology, animal health and animal production, says: “we aim to offer solutions allowing sustainable farming and hunting, in a way that ensures bio­diversity.”

A large part of the work done at IREC deals with aspects of biodiversity conservation and identifies a variety of threats. Cassinello heads a group of researchers who aim to determine the degree of overlap in the behaviour of co­-
existing native and exotic ungulates, and the effect of the latter on native vegetation, with a view to establishing better guidelines for the management of big game species.

Another important study, analysing lead poisoning in protected wetlands, led by Rafael Mateo, has managed to ban the use of lead shot in wetlands, thus protecting the bird species that live in them.

The low selectivity of the trap cages used to control predators is also being studied and alternatives sought, as well as a study of the factors that determine the coexistence of carnivore communities in national parks in the Mediterranean area. These studies, carried out by Pablo Ferreras’s team, were conducted in the hope of the future introduction of the Iberian lynx. These are projects with signifi­cant impacts on the conservation of threatened species, including the wildcat and the otter, as well as the lynx.

Another IREC scholar, Rafael Villafuerte, has spent years studying the dynamics of the European rabbit, one of the cornerstones of the Mediterranean ecosystem, to define measures to protect the species. The line of research led by Pedro Cordero to determine the diversity of orthoptera in the Mediterranean region, in particular in hypersaline lakes, which has enabled new species to be discovered.

In order to preserve bio­diversity, the IREC teams led by Beatriz Arroyo and Javier Viñuela are analysing the protection of threatened species in humanised landscapes, and farming and hunting envir­onments. Cassinello explains that “the majority of human activities bring changes to ecosystem balance and are most often a threat, with the loss of biodiversity this causes. However, some activities can be less harmful if their essence is maintained. This is the case of hunting. If it is based on a rational hunting of species that is respectful of the environment, standing in for the predator in its regulatory role, it can be highly sustainable and even beneficial for the environment.”

The IREC also carries out other types of study, such as the genetic analysis of the red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa). One of its researchers, José Antonio Dávila, has worked on an ambitious project to determine the genetic markers permitting hybrids between the red-legged partridge and the chukar partridge (A. chukar) to be produced. This method is particularly useful in controlling releases of farm-raised partridges or translocations with a view to detecting possible hybridisation. The study is justified by the fact that introgression of chukar partridge populations, which are easier to manage and breed, are increasingly common in Spain, and hybrid individuals may represent a problem for pure bred birds in nature, which may be relegated to suboptimal habitats, endangering the long-term survival of the native partridge.

The UNESCO chair in sustainable coastal development was created at the University of Cadiz seven years ago. The chair, directed by Ángel del Valls, has been supported by the bank since the outset, and it researches numerous threats to biodiversity, in particular the effects of discharges and anthropogenic activities on the coast, estuaries, and aquatic systems.

Programme for the reintroduction of the osprey in the Odiel marshes (Huelva). / Photo courtesy of Santander Universities Global Division.

According to Del Valls, the species in these ecosystems have developed a different sensitivity and capacity for adaptation, which can help them survive, or otherwise, they could be driven out by this type of contamination.
Del Valls said that “our feeling is that the loss of any species is a disaster.” The chair, which works on aquatic ecosystems in Europe, Russia, Brazil and other areas around the world, provides training and tech­nical consulting, conducts applied research, and designs new methods of assessment allowing risks to ecosystem as a whole, including their species, to be identified.

Fundación Banco Santander is supporting the restoration of degraded areas. The initiative described above to preserve biodiversity are complemented by others by the bank through its Fundación Banco Santander for the restoration of degraded areas. These actions include maintenance work spread over several years, so as to ensure the success of the project.

One of the star programmes in this area is that launched in 2011 to reintroduce the osprey in the marshes of Odiel (Huelva). This is a joint project in which Fundación Banco Santander has teamed up with Fundación Migres. The status of the species in the Mediterranean is critical, its population is small and highly fragmented, and it has not bred on the Iberian peninsula since the eighties.

The project involved bringing nine osprey chicks from Germany. Hacking towers have been set up, with four artificial nests in the Marismas del Odiel Nature Reserve (Huelva); the shrub vegetation in the area has been adapted and artificial bait and perches have been set up so other specimens of the species can be located and fed. The project includes setting up a hide in the Odiel marshes from which to watch the birds close up, without affecting their behaviour. A general environmental education and awareness plan has been prepared for visitors to the nature reserve, and another specific plan for schools in the towns near the reintroduction.

Another Fundación Banco Santander project, in this case in collaboration with Fundación Oso Pardo, has been working since 2011 to improve bear habitats in degraded mining environments in Alto Sil (León). The main goal is to restore the brown bear’s habitat The bank is supporting the Proyectos Cero initiative on threatened species being run by the Fundación General CSICin areas in the core breeding ground in Alto Sil (León), by creating a network of copses comprising mainly native cherries, strategically distributed on various publicly held forest lands in the municipal districts of ViIlablino, Páramo del Sil and Palacios del Sil. The copses will cover a total area of 28.8 hectares. The aim is to help develop conservation measures and restore habits, set out in both the strategy for the conservation of the brown bear in Spain, and the plan for the recovery of the brown bear in Castile-León, which embrace the need to foster the planting of land with various types of fruiting species attractive to bears.

In passing, it is also worth mentioning other Fundación Banco Santander projects to remediate degraded natural areas, dating back further than those mentioned, but still in progress. These include the restoration of the Roñanzas peat bog in Llanes (Asturias), begun in 2004 by the Fundación Banco Santander and the Fondo para la Protección de los Animales Salvajes (FAPAS). This area in Asturias, degraded by years of peat digging, is defined as a rare ecosystem in Spain which conserves vegetation from over 15,000 years ago, making it one of the few vestiges of the flora existing before the last great glaciation.

Also, in 2005, through a joint initiative between the Fundación Banco Santander and SEO/BirdLife, a project was launched in Belchite (Zaragoza) to restore the El Planerón bird reserve. This is a steppe zone which stands out for its botanical value and birdlife, included in the Natura 2000 network, and severely affected by erosion problems in the past.

Also in collaboration with SEO/BirdLife, since 2008 Fundación Banco Santander has been supporting the restoration of the upper basin of the River Salobre, designated a special protection area for birds, which is highly eroded by continual flooding.

To reforest the Hocino gorge in Riba de Saelices (Guadalajara), which was home to an outstanding yew wood until it was destroyed by fire, Fundación Banco Santander and WWF España joined forces in 2006 on a project whose success was confirmed in 2011 with the recovery of the other species which lived with the yews (Portuguese oaks, maples, etc.). This cause for celebration was joined this year by the planting of new stands of tetraclinis and junipers, and the installation of new bird feeders, on which seeds of species native to the yew wood have been placed so that the birds can disperse them more effectively.

In Andratx, Mallorca, Fundación Banco Santander has continued its support for the upkeep of the La Trapa Biological Reserve, designated a special protection area for birds and site of community interest (SCI), and located in an outstanding area for its natural and ethnological value in the Tramontana mountains, comprehensive restoration of which was begun by Fundación Banco Santander and the Grupo de Ornitología Balear (GOB) in 2008.

In 2009 Fundación Banco Santander and Fundación Global Nature embarked on a project to restore and improve the environment in the surroundings of the Talaván reservoir, a special protection area for birds seriously affected by deforestation and intensive land use in the region of Cuatro Lugares, in Cáceres. In 2011 work centred on maintaining reforest­ation, with the planting of over 6,000 shrubs and trees.

Fundación Global Nature worked on this occasion with Fundación Banco Santander in alliance with the Sociedad Ornitológica de Canarias (SOC) and the Tenerife local government. Together, these institutions presented envir­onmental restoration actions in 2011 to recover natural areas on the island included in the Natura 2000 network, begun in 2010 and involving the replanting of more than ten hectares of thermophilic, laurel and pine woods. This project re-establishes the continuity of the forest crown in the Arico and Fasnia highlands, which has been damaged by farming and logging in the past. It also aims to restore the thermophilic and laurel woods in the mid-range areas of Icod de Los Vinos and restore the laurel woods in the Teno rural park, destroyed by fire in the north-eastern district of the island.

Lastly, a Fundación Banco Santander project on apiculture as an aid to restoring mountain ecosystems is currently in its initial stages. It starts from the premsie that the disappearance of bees represents a serious problem for maintaining ecosystems, and so aims to create a working model for environmental restoration through bee management, and reach other areas: supporting the conservation of endangered species, such as the bear and capercaillie; produce bio­diversity through farming; increase the productivity of mountain ecosystems (woods, scrub and pasture); stimulate the local economy in sensitive mountain areas; and set up a new line of vocational training, aimed at environmental beekeeping. The initiative will be run in the municipalities of Camaleño, Vega de Liébana and Pesaguero (Cantabria) between January 2012 and December 2013.

All the activities briefly summarised here are indications of Banco Santander’s commitment to the environment, which earned it several awards in 2011. Considered The Greenest Bank in the World, by the magazine Bloomberg Markets, it is the first bank in the Interbrand Best Global Green Brands ranking. Moreover, Banco Santander Brasil has been recognised as the 17th business in the world and 5th bank in the world with the best environmental management by Newsweek’s 2011 Green Rankings. Finally, the bank has raised its score on the environmental axis in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

Published in No. 09

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  • Lychnos. ISSN: 2171-6463 (Spanish print edition),
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