Capitalism is the ultimate root cause of climate change – and the ongoing source of its exacerbation – so is meaningful change possible while maintaining the economic status quo?
The European Commission defines sustainable finance as the ‘provision of finance to investments taking into account environmental, social and governance considerations’. It includes a ‘strong green finance component that aims to support economic growth while reducing pressures on the environment, addressing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling pollution, and minimising waste and improving efficiency in the use of natural resources.’
In 2018, the government announced the establishment of a new Green Finance Institute. This builds on the existing Green Finance Initiative that launched in 2016.
Green Finance combines all financial transactions that favour the energy transition and fight against climate change, but only 35% of its workforce are female.
Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry said, “Celebrating trailblazing women is one of the best parts of my job. I want other women to follow their lead and embrace the opportunities presented by clean growth, like those in the sustainable finance sector.”
Anjuli Pandit is one of these women. She is the UK Head of Corporate Sustainability and Primary Sustainability Manager at BNP Paribas, acting as “a bridge between investors who are looking to integrate sustainability into their portfolios and issuers who need to raise capital to achieve their sustainability goals.”
She says that ten years ago she “probably wouldn’t have ever considered that [she] had a skillset which could be interesting to the financial services”, but by combining her knowledge of sustainability with her colleagues’ expertise in delivering financing and investment products, they are “able to push this pioneering new field – Sustainable Finance.”
Pandit says that she enjoys this role because of “the incredible satisfaction that every single day you are working towards solving the climate crisis, human rights issues, gender equality.”
“We all know it is going to take an immense amount of capital to change our business models and systems towards inclusive, environmentally conscious practices. My job is to do everything I can to get clients access to that capital or the opportunity to invest in that future we all aspire towards.”
“Because we have to demonstrate the impact this capital is creating, we talk about carbon emission reductions, hospital beds, employment opportunities, women on boards. It is very concrete and rewarding to know that I have some role to play in making these sustainability goals a reality.”
These tangible results are also important to Ronrong Huo, Executive Director and Head of Investment Institute at Investec Asset Management “Responsible stewards of long term capital have a key role to play in the transition to a more sustainable financial industry,” she says, “and I want to be at the driving seat.”
Before moving to her current role, Huo was an investment banker in a global bank, setting up and co-leading their Sustainable Finance team. She is also one of the founders of two high-profile Green Finance initiatives in the UK and China, which have brought many – increasingly mainstream – green finance and investment-related solutions and products to the market.
“Feeling that you are doing the right thing gives you the confidence and satisfaction to take on greater career challenges,” Huo continues. “Going sustainable and green is not only the ‘right thing to do’, it is also a sound business decision, strategically and commercially.”
Abigail Herron, Global Head of Responsible Investment at Aviva Investors, agrees, saying “companies that respond swiftly to the changing landscape on topics such as climate change will have a competitive advantage.”
She emphasises that ‘short-termism’ is a problem.“We need to avoid a wasteful approach to our future sources of growth and instead put capital to work to build a sustainable economy that will deliver prosperity, jobs and long-term growth for generations to come.”
“Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement will require an unprecedented mobilisation of both public and private finance: some US$90 trillion over the next 15 years.”
“Everything you read about in the news plays into sustainable finance – from artificial intelligence, the living wage, the collapse of fish stocks and the decline in bees, plastics to mining in the most prestigious areas of natural beauty on the planet, UNESCO world heritage sites. It’s a fantastic platform for positive change.”
Emily Murrell, Head of Sustainable Finance and Future Cities Policy at HSBC, has a more personal connection to her career goals. She states that witnessing the consequences of climate change from a young age is what made her go into this field. “I’m half-French and where my family are from in the French Alps the scenery has changed dramatically as a result of climate change.”
Murrell’s role at HSBC entails identifying and helping both the business and their clients manage the main risks and opportunities relating to the transition to the low carbon economy: “Without solving the financing challenge and finding the trillions of investment needed for green infrastructure, a low-carbon world will not be possible.”
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement “are no longer a ‘nice to have’ and instead are being actively integrated into business models.”
“One of the things I’m proudest of this year is my role co-organising a programme of events at the Tate Modern for the UK’s first ever Green GB Week […] Bringing together hundreds of representatives from business, government, academia and civil society fosters the public-private partnerships and relationships necessary to address climate change. Further, it reminded me how much ‘climate talent’ there is in the UK, a fantastic hub of expertise and innovation.”
Faty Dembele, meanwhile, is the Senior Programme Manager at the Investments Leaders Group at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, a global network of pension funds, insurers and asset managers committed to advancing the practice of responsible investment.
“Seeing the growth of impact investments, which are meant to provide positive returns and address some of the most pressing social and environmental challenges is a great source of satisfaction for me,” Dembele says.
Meryam Omi, Head of Sustainability and Responsible Investment Strategy at Legal & General Investment Management, asserts: “We have to redirect the money from dirty to clean, because it makes sense financially and for our future.”
Her job “touches on all aspects of sustainability that have to do with investments.”
“I fell into finance,” she says, “but I really wanted to be part of the solution to global environmental issues. I was once fully prepared to leave finance, but I realised, and others made me realise, that I could potentially have a bigger impact if I stayed in finance, to try to be in the driving seat of capital flow.”
It’s hard to imagine finance ever being an eco-friendly industry, but it’s true that moving towards a carbon neutral world will involve the investment of a lot of money, and these funds have to come from somewhere. For women like Meryam Omi, they feel more equipped to make a change from the inside. Will this be enough to kick-start the meaningful change we so desperately need? Only time will tell.