Sustainability is coming of age
Over the past year I've been engaged working with Finextra on topics of sustainable finance as part of an expert committee on the subject. Sustainable finance is an interesting area which engages with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) and attempts to ensure that investors back companies that are working towards these goals. The goal of this is to speed up adoption of ESG reporting and AI solutions which make financial institutions and investors more comfortable with investing under ESG criteria.
I was lucky enough to run an online Finextra workshop back in June 2020 with Keith McGrane from Corre Energy and Maya Hennerkes from the EBRD discussing and building a case for data-driven investment to homogenise data acquisition between institutions and project originators to make the process of finance quicker and more effective. Some of the output of this workshop and others can be seen here.
Corre Energy are an interesting business that build energy storage and have raised seed capital from a combination of grants and investors but have had issues with finding a set criteria and set of questions and reports that will satisfy financial institutions. The problem seems to be prolific in finance where there is a large will to invest in environmental projects but not necessarily the ability to evaluate them in good time and with good outcome. This is one of the key issues we're looking at as part of the Finestra work; using data to bridge this gap.
Everyone can feel the undercurrent after the pandemic has knocked the world for six. Markets have tanked, companies have gone under, people have lost their jobs and governments are beginning to build up large piles of debt again. If this is a message for the shape things to come it's being felt now as more and more institutions like Black Rock are making proclamations and oil companies like BP are completely restructuring to support carbon neutral business models. Whilst the wake-up call is late we're fighting against a capitalist intent which has found it infinitely difficult to practically build future risk models at the scale we need to solve these upcoming environmental issues as a global community.
As a business we've been working closely with the Imperial College Leonardo Center on trying to project out some of their great research on using machine learning and natural language processing models to give better investment guidance to portfolio managers that want to invest using ESG criteria. They've all said the same thing. I've picked a very common sentiment from customers as we've gone through a process of understanding which is that generally they don't trust the data and reporting on ESG's. As a community of technologists we have to better to ascribe confidence in the data we deliver because the investments need to go to the companies that follow the UN's committed model.
Sustainability and it's environmental impact is felt from old to young and it's more prolific with the young. This is our Greta Thunberg generation that have a much greater stake in the systems continued survival and support and movement to new systems which penalise bad behaviour and carbon action and reward good behaviour and technical excellence. I've been supporting the Vodafone Teens Incubator (Digital Camp) run by a colleague and it focuses on upskilling teens so that they can begin to build the sustainability technology of the future. A summary of some of the key ongoing initiatives are below:
Team Carbon Foodprint and Team SmartFoods building Apps which support restaurant and student populations to promote less food wastage and greater investment by students into a healthy lifestyle.
Team Piezo has come up with an innovative simulator which works with the idea of footfall on piezo tiles in shopping centres to generate energy.
With the volume of innovation and scores of young people giving up their time over weekends for these initiatives we can really see that the pulse of change is truly with us.