Promoting innovative sustainability in the funds industry

Sustainable Ireland

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the economic resilience of Ireland is intimately linked to environmental quality; that is, the supporting role of our ecosystems and natural resource services. Our environment will thrive in the absence of an economy or a society – but the opposite does not hold true.

Sustainability is a key issue and policy area in the funds and asset management industry, as evidenced by the implementation of Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) and other ESG policies over the last few years. However, as an industry, the funds sector is also focused on implementing sustainable business practices within companies to ensure it plays its part in reducing the impact of climate change.

Without new ideas and ambitious programmes to tackle climate change, like all other industries in Ireland, the funds industry will be impacted by increased temperatures, extreme weather events and longer-term structural shifts in our environment, such as rising sea levels or growing weather variability along with the associated financial, human and economic effects. Many of these we’ve already seen in Ireland; according to Met Éireann’s Status of Ireland 2020 report, the annual average surface air temperature has increased by over 0.9°C over the last 120 years, with a sea level rise and higher ocean temperatures also observed.

With this in mind, I wanted to get involved and make a difference.

Grant Thornton’s Irish Funds Sustainathon 2022

The Sustainathon was a hackathon-style event which took place in October 2022 in collaboration with the Irish Funds Industry Association (IFIA) over two days. The 2022 theme centred around the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and focused specifically on the UN SDG 13 on Climate Action.

On the first day of the workshop, participants were grouped into four teams to brainstorm solutions for financial centres to increase their industry commitments to sustainability. On day two, each team presented its ideas to a panel of judges.

The winning team would present their solution at the Irish Funds Annual Global Conference 2023.

I was placed in a team with Maebh Ni Ghallchobhair, a trainee Solicitor from LK Shields; Rafaela Nascimento, a Senior Consultant from Grant Thornton; and Sean Hodgins, an Account Opening Executive from Goodbody Stockbrokers.

Our idea was to develop a carbon calculator tool to evaluate the carbon footprint of office workers in the financial services industry in Ireland.

Alongside the carbon calculator, we suggested learning resources should be provided to help people reduce or offset their carbon emissions. We believed that our idea closely aligned with the UN SDG target of “improving education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaption, impact reduction and early warning”.

A winning idea

Excitingly, the judges agreed, and our team was announced as the winners of the Sustainathon.

The carbon calculator tool and its implementation are currently undergoing development with help from the Green Team Network. It will be rolled out to participating companies in February, and we can begin to calculate the carbon footprint of employees within the Irish funds industry. The data will then be collated and compared year on year, which will help Ireland build a comparative digital footprint of the industry and our CO2 emissions.

As part of this project, the participating companies who record the largest decrease in their carbon footprint will be presented with an award at the IFIA Annual Conference each year – a process that will be managed by the existing Green Team Network.

We developed a few more strategies alongside the carbon calculator:

  • A partnership with based in Mayo, which facilitates planting native trees to offset carbon emissions. Each participating employee will receive contact details on how to get involved
  • The proposal of financing framework for financial services companies to provide microfinancing using a similar funding model to the ‘cycle to work’ scheme, but instead for the installation of solar panels and heat pumps, etc. This idea has been presented to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications to assist people in adopting greener sources of energy within their homes

Promoting sustainability

Our project felt like we could make a small positive contribution towards promoting sustainability in Ireland, and these types of initiatives are exactly what we need to increase visibility of climate change amongst our peers and leaders within the industry.

But you don’t need to be part of a winning team in a regional Sustainathon to get involved – we can all take sustainable steps in our lives to decrease our carbon footprint or offset emissions, as individuals and as part of larger organisations, to the benefit of everyone.