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Inspiring innovation in sustainable finance: FT/IFC Conference

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Delegates from some of the world’s biggest financial organisations assembled at the Landmark Hotel in London yesterday, for a well-versed conference about sustainable finance.

The Financial Times (FT) and International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Sustainable Finance Conference & Awards, now in its seventh year, brings together experts from every corner of the globe. This year, the list included representatives from the UK, US, Australia, Brazil and Kuwait, to name a few.

The evening awards ceremony will ultimately receive the most extensive coverage in the coming days – see our piece about which companies took home gongs here – but it’s the daytime conference that arguably provided attendees with better insight and inspiration into the world of sustainable finance.

Sustainability is not only good for business but it’s good for the bottom line, too – Rashad Kaldany

The welcome page in the event programme set the scene for the conference: “With the global economy in turmoil, and the plight of many vulnerable parts of society worsening, there is a unique opportunity for sustainable finance institutions to shape the response of governments and influence corporate behaviour in resolving our most pressing global problems”, wrote Nena Stoiljkovic, a vice president at the IFC, and Lionel Barber, FT editor.

Kicking off proceedings was the chair of the day’s proceedings – former FT associate editor John Willman. After a brief welcome, Willman introduced the conference’s first keynote speaker: IFC vice president of global industries, Rashad Kaldany, who has occupied a number of roles at the organisation since joining in 1988.

He presented an overview of the themes set to be explored throughout the day, and pointed towards the financial turbulence that the world currently faces, saying that this is the exact reason why incorporating environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) is so important.

Sir Ronald Cohen.

Perhaps the most profound point he made, though, was that a business-as-usual attitude towards finances is simply not an option for a sustainable future. “Sustainability is not only good for business”, he said, “but it’s good for the bottom line, too”.

Kaldany’s address was followed immediately by another keynote speaker: James Cameron, chairman of Climate Change Capital, an investment management and advisory group of which he was a founder.

Cameron defined sustainable investment as “properly valuing public goods”, something that he added was often challenging for private investors to comprehend.

When we do value public goods”, he said, “only then will we have sustainable finance and a sustainable economy.”

He went onto describe the three pillars of investments: infrastructure, innovation and information. Adding an environmental label to finance is often unnecessary, he added.

The first of three panel discussions followed Cameron’s keynote address, under the headline, ‘Private equity and responsible investment – the new frontier’.

On stage were James Gifford, executive director of the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment, Daniel Green, investment director at Greenpark Capital, Alan MacKay, CEO of Hermes GPE and Dominic Scriven, CEO of Dragon Capital Group, with John Willman moderating the discussion.

Gifford talked about how the financial crisis had changed the balance of power, saying that the private equity industry now responds to the needs of investors. He also mentioned emerging markets – a popular theme that was touched upon on numerous occasions throughout the day.

There are some fantastic world-class companies in emerging markets”, he said.

Scriven of Dragon Capital Group is based in Vietnam. “Sustainability starts with self-interest”, he began, before reeling off a number of anecdotes about his experience with agro-forestry investment in Asia.

MacKay built on Scriven’s thoughts about sustainability, adding that it “isn’t about reducing costs; it’s about making companies better, stronger and more valuable”.

Perhaps the most anticipated speaker to grace the Sustainable Finance Conference stage was Sir Ronald Cohen, chairman of Big Society Capital and, as FT editor Lionel Barber called him in his introduction, the “father of venture capital”.

Sir Ronald’s address oozed sophistication, knowledge and experience. He spoke with eloquence about social entrepreneurship – the biggest risk to which, he said, was failure.

He added that so-called “impact investment” – investments that have healthy returns but also do environmental and social good – is essential in solving the growing list of social problems we face.

When we value public goods, only then will we have sustainable finance and a sustainable economy – James Cameron

After a brief pause for lunch, delegates returned to the marvellously grand Empire Room to witness another panel discussion, this time under the heading, ‘Harnessing innovation in sustainable finance’.

Moderated again by John Willman, the panellists were Ladi Balogun, CEO of First City Monument Bank, Denise Hills, sustainability superintendent at Itaú Unibanco, Abyd Karmali, managing director and global head of carbon markets at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Chris Locke, managing director of GSMA and Cecilia Widebäck West, head of group corporate sustainability at SEB.

Green bonds, micro-finance and the green economy were just three of the areas covered by the acclaimed quintet. Hills of Itaú Unibanco, the second largest bank in Brazil, offered a brief definition of the third term: “The green economy is including people and the environment as part of your business and resources”, she said.

Sustainability is the easiest thing to perceive, but the most difficult thing to do.”

The third and final panel discussion was titled ‘Women and business – the key to sustainable development and economic revitalisation’, and was designed to examine the increasingly important role that women play in businesses worldwide.

Stephen O’Brien MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for International Development, was the session’s keynote speaker. The theme of his address was summed up perfectly in his conclusion: “If you get it right for girls and women, you get it right for development”.

Allowing women to reach their economic potential, he said, was essential to the coalition government’s priorities.

'Women and business' panel discussion.

On the back of O’Brien’s speech, Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women’s World Banking, moderated a discussion with Sara Akbar, CEO of Kuwait Energy Company, Melissa Guzy, founder of Arbor Partners, and Larke Riemer, director of women’s markets at Westpac Banking Corporation.

Iskenderian quoted former US secretary of state, Madeline Albright: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”. The other three women on stage proceeded to explain their backgrounds and how they each strive to help women realise their potential.

Riemer urged organisations to “give female customers what they want”, in the form of education, information and networking with like-minded women.

We’re here to help women have a sustainable financial future”, she added, before joking, “If you do have financial independence, you can marry whoever you like!

Meanwhile, Akbar explained that the definition of a good businesswoman was someone who combines having a good life with having a good business. “Family is important”, she insisted.

Rounding off the discussion about women and business, and bookending the conference, was Rachel Kyte, vice president and network head in sustainable development at the World Bank.

In a relaxed end to the day’s proceedings, she relayed to Leo Johnson, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, co-founder of Sustainable Finance and the brother of the London Mayor, her greatest hope for sustainable finance: “Necessity is the mother of invention, and I see people in my job who are pulling off minor miracles”, she said. “If we can get out of their way, we can make the world a great place.”

Everyone sat in the Empire Room at the Landmark Hotel yesterday is helping to move the world onto a more sustainable footing. It was a thoroughly stimulating event that ought to provide great hope and inspiration to the financial services industry.

Through sustainable innovation in finance and investment, we have the ability to alter mankind’s journey onto a better path. The question is: will you join us?

Further reading:

FT/IFC Sustainable Finance Awards: the winners

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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