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New York Sustainability Connect addresses hot topics on green economy

Jul 2, 2024

Capgemini’s event gathered eco-conscious leaders to explore how companies can drive positive outcomes for people and the planet

Capgemini brought together sustainability experts and environmentally conscious professionals recently for its New York Sustainability Connect event at its office in the bustling Union Square neighborhood of Manhattan.

The event on June 18, 2024 assembled experts from various industries for an evening of networking and lively discussion on different aspects of our collective transition toward a cleaner future. The topics included the current state of play for sustainability in the Americas, climate risk in financial services portfolios, and job creation in the growing green economy.

Current state of play for sustainability in the Americas

Our presenters:

  • Vincent Charpiot, EVP and Head of Group Sustainability Accelerator at Capgemini (moderator)
  • Shobha Meera​, Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer at Capgemini
  • Sol Salinas, Global Executive Vice President & North America Sustainability Lead​ at Capgemini
  • Satish Weber, Head Executive VP of the Sustainability Financial Services Strategic Business Unit at Capgemini.

Discussions around environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors too often amount to little more than “motherhood and apple pie” – feel-good platitudes that do little to advance the conversation.

The panelists from Capgemini wanted the conversations to be meaningful by addressing the potential benefits and obstacles, from strategy to execution, and avoiding cheerful reassurances. The upshot of the first panel was that embracing sustainability is no longer an option: it’s a business necessity.

Internationally, business value is a leading – if not the leading – driver of sustainability initiatives. In the US, adhering to regulations tends to top the list of incentives.

Of course, sustainable projects that don’t deliver quantifiable outcomes will ironically not be sustainable for that organization. But delay won’t help either, because the competition will be adopting new, clean technologies that will accelerate business objectives while earning trust from the public and investors.  

In recent years, sustainability has become a hyper-driver of innovation in product, business, and service models.

Opportunities to secure funding for sustainable projects have never been as plentiful. If there was ever a time for successful business cases around adopting sustainable practices or sourcing renewable energy – whether wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, ocean energy, etc. – that time is now.

The Biden administration is investing around $2 trillion in sustainability, through the CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Nevertheless, the biggest challenge is the high investment costs, which means access to capital is a key enabler and financial services have a crucial role to play.

Climate risk in financial portfolios

Our presenters:

  • Alex Tepper, Global Head of Ventures & Leader in Sustainable Futures at frog, Capgemini Invent (moderator)
  • Sandro Chen​, Banking Engagement Lead at Climate X
  • Maritzabel Mayoral, ESG Coverage Vice President at MSCI
  • Ashley Cooke​, Institutional Client Coverage, Alternatives/Renewables at HSBC.

Both private and public funds are crucial to developing new technologies for ESG projects. Private companies and venture capitalists take significant risks to fund promising new technologies. Then the public sector enables large-scale implementation and adoption.

Investors have the unenviable task of not only determining which startups and established businesses herald the greatest returns, but also deducing which sustainability efforts are in good faith.

The truth eventually comes out, so any financial backing built on shaky sustainable practices could dissipate. It’s important for investors to have an accurate picture of a company’s sustainability claims early on.

Greenwashing, the act of promoting vague or misleading commitments to sustainable practices with minimal or zero legitimate effort to reduce environmental impact, is sadly all too common.

Providers of investment decision support tools and services can help people sift through all the relevant information to determine which companies live up to their eco-friendly messaging.

It’s still difficult to evaluate ESG investment opportunities without a standardized, recognized data source. At the moment, hundreds of different companies gather and organize similar datasets, with sometimes diverging or even contradictory information. The sooner the industry establishes and embraces a single, open source of ESG data, the better for all involved.

In the past, anyone investing in ESG was liable to hear someone suggest he or she was “giving up their returns.” But this misunderstanding has slowly changed, as more companies find success in the space and sustainable business practices are better understood as a profit center rather than a cost center.

It’s also worth noting that many promising investment opportunities exist in emerging markets, which contribute less than 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Green jobs

Our presenters:

  • Alex Hammer Ducas, Senior Strategy Director and Private Sector Lead at Purpose (moderator)
  • Kevin Eckerle, Director of ESG Performance, Operations, and Consumer Health at Bayer
  • Caitlyn Brazill​, Chief Revenue Officer​ at Per Scholas
  • Matthew Beller​, Senior Advisor at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Talent and Workforce Development.

Many positions we think of as green jobs weren’t available just a few years ago. And we don’t yet know all the new green positions that will open up in the near future.

This applies just as much to emerging, explicitly green jobs and traditional roles – such as controller or accountant – that will increasingly focus on sustainability.  

A major company in the past may have had a single job for a sustainability expert, but now it likely has many experts on various aspects of sustainability and roles that incorporate the movement’s concerns.

Unfortunately, a skills gap separates many jobseekers from openings in sustainability. Given the fluid nature of the green job market, one of the best ways to prepare young adults for a career in sustainability is through technological training.

Organizations like Per Scholas, a nonprofit committed to equitable education access based in the Bronx, NY, provides tuition-free skills training to people typically excluded from tech careers.

Preparing people for tech careers that support the sustainability transition helps address social and environmental challenges simultaneously.

Embracing the apprenticeship model of job training, which is more common in Europe than the US, could also help connect young people land new jobs in the burgeoning green economy.

Developing a greener tomorrow

Despite some headwinds, today’s market is promising in terms of accelerating a more sustainable future. Throughout the Americas, the transition toward sustainability is characterized by meaningful progress and persistent challenges.

Whether looking to build a career or invest, considering ESG factors early and often can help people stay on the cutting edge of technology and business trends.

New York Sustainability Connect concluded with networking opportunities, so the attendees could discuss what they had heard and develop relationships, perhaps even partnerships.

There are ongoing challenges to accelerating sustainability, but green initiatives incentivize cooperation and goodwill, whereas business as usual can incentivize avarice and suspicion. After all, the effects of pollution and anthropogenic global warming affect everyone and it’s going to take collective (in addition to individual) action to mitigate their most harmful consequences.

But with events like New York Sustainability Connect, we can start to make meaningful changes, together.