The Malta Sustainability Forum 2021 will provide a stage to make the sustainability debate stronger and louder, as APS Bank CEO Marcel Cassar tells Times of Malta.

Sustainability is a topic on everyone’s mind right now. Why should everyone – and the business community in particular – take note?

I have been asked this question many times and the answer is always the same. Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations.

There are three main aspects to this: social, environmental and economic. Business is key to social and economic development but these should not come at the price of environmental degradation and general well-being.

We need to act in the present while thinking about the future and business decisions are key to sustainable development.

Is it the role of a private entity such as APS to take the lead in organising conferences about sustainability?

Given that banks finance the bulk of economic activity, they play a crucial role in the transition to a more sustainable future. As the oldest bank in Malta and with the values of our founders at the core of our mission, we have a special duty of care and concern for our customers, our community.

From new graduates to senior citizens, from young couples to large family units, from small voluntary organisations to established businesses — they are all our community. This places on us a responsibility to ensure that our lending and banking activities are sustainable. Our concern with sustainable development must be expressed in every way possible. It lies at the heart of our values, underpins our business strategy and it is natural that we also take the lead to educate, inform and raise awareness. 

The launch of the Malta Sustainability Forum in 2019 underscored APS Bank’s commitment to the urgent issue of sustainability. What were the main takeaways from the first edition that cemented your desire to take this commitment forward?

Being our first forum and, to a certain extent, an experiment, the 2019 event was mainly concerned with raising awareness on the topic of sustainability and to empower the ‘Thinking Citizen’ to make conscious decisions towards a sustainable life. The formidable line-up of local and international speakers, led by President George Vella, focused on the need to touch the hearts and minds of citizens for a reawakening to a sustainable lifestyle.

Discussing sustainability is discussing about our way of life and of those who will come after us

I particularly recall simple slogans like ‘let’s change minds, more than climates’ as capturing the essence of the forum, which also called on participants to sign up to a manifesto pledging to take a number of actions that can contribute towards sustainable living – indeed becoming ‘Thinking Citizens’. There was so much that we took away from that first experience that at the closing reception on November 14, 2019, we were already planning the second edition.

What challenges has the impact of COVID-19 presented in organising this year’s event?

Our original plan was to hold the forum in November 2020, keeping to a slot around the middle of the month – as we did in 2019 − which would become our annual date for the event. Encouraged by the success of the first edition, the format was also going to be the same. And although we had everything planned and lined up for months – quite a logistical challenge in itself – COVID-19 became the great disruptor. Changing everything from physical to virtual was an even bigger challenge and for that reason we moved the event to January, taking the opportunity to enhance the programme and spread it over a week. On the eve of the start of the forum and with a line-up of more than 80 local and international speakers, we are excited about what promises to be a veritable ‘festa’ on the topic of sustainability.

MSF 2021 is offering a vast international dimension with 30 per cent of the speakers being foreign, not to mention the presence of many ambassadors, a module dedicated solely to women and one to youth. What can we expect from the contributions of these diverse elements to the forum?

I like to say that the forum is of interest to anyone who has the long-term preservation of our Mother Earth at heart. Discussing sustainability is discussing about our way of life and of those who will come after us ‒ our children and future generations. This discussion has no limitations as to geography, gender, race or age. The popular statement that sustainability ‘is about people, planet and profits’ underscores the vastness of the perspectives which the discussion should entertain. So we believe that such diversity among speakers and panellists not only enriches the forum but highlights even more the universality of the sustainability agenda.

‘The time is now’ is the overarching theme of the forum. This is an urgent call to action. What do you hope to be the legacy of the forum?

I believe that the theme we have chosen for this forum captures it all. It is a cry for the attention of all citizens and stakeholders that efforts done over the recent years need to be stepped up. More than a third of the timeline for the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals has now passed and the story so far is one of insufficient progress. Poverty, hunger, disease, unsafe water and sanitation, gender inequality and lack of access to education are the SDGs particularly affected, made worse by the fact that many countries are off track to meet most of the environmental sustainability goals. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the challenge even more daunting but, at the same time, also created a huge appetite and opportunity for change. We hope that the forum will provide a stage to make the debate stronger and louder.

Is there anything else you wish to add?

Like the first edition of 2019, the forum aims to empower the citizen make conscious decisions towards a sustainable life. Our simple message this time is to ‘learn, engage and act’. This starts with us and ‘the time is now’. I urge all those interested in this project to visit the website and register for the forum:

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