Net zero goal: a challenge for talent


Roopa Dave is a Vancouver-based partner in KPMG Canada’s Sustainability Services practice.handout

The growing commitment of the global financial community to supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy is now pushing organizations to seek out people with the talent to deliver on these commitments: finance professionals with a green streak.

“Sustainable finance may seem like a new concept to some, but almost overnight we saw an explosion in demand for professionals with this kind of experience,” says Jean Andrey, dean of the environmental faculty of the University of Waterloo.

Its faculty has partnered with the School of Accounting and Finance to develop a new undergraduate program in sustainability and financial management. “We are creating a whole new program. “

Experienced candidates with this combination of financial expertise and in-depth environmental knowledge are rare, says Roopa Dave, Vancouver-based partner in KPMG Canada’s sustainability services practice. “We have a lot of listings out there,” she says, and the competition is intense.

KPMG already has a strong multidisciplinary team of sustainability specialists in Canada – “Business acumen is a top priority, so we have Chartered Professional Accountants and Chartered Financial Analysts, but we [also] have engineers, foresters, biologists and climate graduates, ”she explains. The practice is growing to keep pace with clients’ needs in terms of environmental audits, advice on risks and opportunities related to climate change, the integration of ESG (environmental, social and governance) considerations into the business strategy and the transition to a lower carbon footprint.

KPMG Canada recently recruited a Marine Biologist turned Accountant to the firm’s UK ESG Strategy team and is hiring internationally. “We’re bringing people from India, we’re looking at Australia,” Ms. Dave says. “We are looking for specific qualities, not necessarily a specific profile. Really what we’re looking for is a certain way of thinking – that ability to be multidisciplinary and to connect the dots on these complicated issues. “

At the same time, KPMG Canada – like other organizations in the professional and financial services industries – trains for emerging skills for which it cannot hire. Training all staff on environmental, social and governance issues that affect all sectors of the new economy will go a long way in addressing the talent shortage, Ms. Dave said. “I think this is a key approach for all businesses. We are collaborating, for example, with global academic institutions like Cambridge University and New York University to develop a curriculum to do this.

Virtually all post-secondary institutions in Canada “approach sustainability in one way or another,” says Michael Wood, associate director of undergraduate studies at the school of environment, business and development. University of Waterloo. Some graduates, like the microbiologist at KPMG, go on to study business. There are also postgraduate climate science courses for graduates of business programs, as well as a range of continuing education options for students seeking to supplement their knowledge of environmental or business issues.

The new sustainability and financial management program, which will accept its first cohort of students in fall 2022, marks “the start of a new discipline,” said Wood. Globally, companies have set sustainability goals and targets to minimize their environmental impact.

In October 2021, weeks before the recent United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Canada’s six largest banks joined the United Nations Global Bankers Alliance to recognize the urgent need to tackle change. climate change and the role of financial institutions – through their investment and lending decisions – in supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. The objective is to issue “net zero” in their portfolios by 2050.

The Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, a member-owned cooperative, was one of the founding signatories of the net zero banking alliance when it launched in April 2021, along with industry giants such as HSBC, Deutsche Bank AG, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc.

Vancity aims to eliminate or significantly reduce the carbon emitted by any business it funds by 2040, working with its members in the interim to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Going faster could be “incredibly disruptive to the livelihoods of people and communities,” says Jonathan Foley, who heads Vancity’s external relations and impact strategy division, overseeing community investment, strategy and climate performance, among other responsibilities.

In February 2021, the credit union hired HSBC sustainability professional Alison Coates to help Vancity “build a credible roadmap to net zero” in her role as director of climate strategy and performance. The challenge for all signatories of the net-zero alliance is to identify and finance new and innovative clean technology companies, to offer investment products that can demonstrate the integrity of their ESG stewardship, while providing the financial support that high-emitting sectors need. decarbonise, with a view to ensuring a fair and stable economic transition.

At Waterloo, students will study accounting and financial management, earning credits for CPA or CFA designations, and deepen in environmental law, social equity, carbon emissions, and ecosystem science – emerging with the expertise to quantify, report and integrate sustainability considerations into long-term business strategies and decision-making processes. They will also gain 20 months of paid work experience through cooperative internships.

“You will always need ecologists, biologists, you will need foresters, all these people who are traditionally trained in the environment,” explains Ms. Andrey from Waterloo. “But on top of that, you need a whole different set of people who can lead the financial industry with a deep understanding of sustainability.”