skip to content

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

30 October 2023 - CISL’s Banking Environment Initiative has published a new Bank Action Guide to help banks begin to facilitate a just transition for acutely vulnerable SMEs and assert their role as key partners to communities and civil society, contributing to a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable global economy.

Download the Guide

Download the Background Briefing

Download the Methodology Annex

The Bank Action Guide, developed by the Banking Environment Initiative (BEI) at CISL’s Centre for Sustainable Finance (CSF), is a blueprint for actionable steps banks can take to include acutely vulnerable small-medium enterprises (SMEs) and, therefore, begin to ensure they are included in the net-zero transition. It offers a roadmap for banks to ensure a fair and sustainable transition for acutely vulnerable SMEs. These SMEs are the focus for any initial action a bank takes because the climate-related transition risks they face are the most material, being heightened due to social, economic and environmental challenges, and their inclusion is crucial for the legitimacy and success of the net zero transition.

The transition to a sustainable economy presents both risks and opportunities. This guide emphasises the importance of supporting SMEs, particularly the most vulnerable, in their journey toward sustainability. The guide is structured in three phases which are designed to help banks:

  • Acknowledge and identify vulnerabilities: Identify the unique challenges faced by acutely vulnerable SMEs in the context of climate-related transition risks.
  • Map out action: Develop appropriate strategies and actions within the bank to address these vulnerabilities.
  • Test and embed participation: Ensure meaningful involvement of these SMEs in the net-zero transition, fostering a deep partnership between banks and SMEs.

The guide is adaptable to various contexts and considers action on a just transition for SMEs across different aspects of the transformation of the banking business and operating model.

Citing this report

University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) (2023). Bank Action Guide: including acutely vulnerable Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in just transition to net zero. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Read quotes about the report here.

Published: 30 October 2023

Authors and acknowledgements

The authors of this paper were Dr Mohsen Gul and Grant Rudgley at the CISL Centre for Sustainable Finance. They were supported at CISL by Dr Nina Seega, Eliot Whittington, Rob Barker, Priya Rajasekar and Jie Zhou.

Without the dedication of these institutions and the individuals who participated in this project, the insights presented here would not have been possible. These individuals include Richard Kooloos (ABN-AMRO), Vicky Mcallister and Rachel Quinn (Barclays), Michaela Wright (HSBC), Jenny Smedley and Richard Lees (Lloyds Banking Group). We thank the Small and medium enterprises that participated in the research for their contributions. Last but not least, we thank our subject matter experts, Professor Raghu Rau (Cambridge Judge Business School) and Professor Judy Muthuri (University of Nottingham), for their invaluable guidance.


Copyright © 2023 University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).

Some rights reserved. The material featured in this publication is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share-Alike License. (Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.