“We’re going to need to invest trillions in moving to a more sustainable future,” says Alison Vipond, Sustainability Policy and Innovation Lead at Ecology Building Society, and a judge for the 2021 F4TF Awards. “There is a need for the finance sector to look more broadly, and develop a more holistic view of financing, and to develop its skillset to understand the world of sustainability more,” she says. “What is more, the future is not just about financial accounting, it's also about social accounting and nature accounting.”
Ecology Building Society is on a mission to build a greener society. To this end, sustainability is embedded in its thinking. For many in finance, there is still a lot of learning to do and a need for them to act but Vipond is heartened by the progress being made.
“I have a really good understanding of what the problems are, and what some of the solutions might be, but I can't make those happen myself,” says Vipond. “It's my finance colleagues who have a leading role to play. The skillset to do so is expanding dramatically – this is so exciting.”
Vipond is a scientist by training. She was driven by a desire to address some of the world's problems, “but ultimately,” she says, “if you don't have finance behind you, you can't make anything happen.” She continues: “Finance and behaviour change are the two things that are vital to make progress towards a sustainable future.”
In terms of the Awards, Vipond says they are all about demonstrating the art of the possible, and inspiring people. “They’re about encouraging people to think differently and to be ambitious,” she says. “They also demonstrate the diversity of thinking out there. We are going to need a huge number of solutions – there’s not just one solution for all for the far-reaching change that we're going to need in society.”
Ecology Building Society was previously an Award winner itself, and Vipond expresses how important it was to the business that it received that award after 40 years in sustainable finance. “This was a most prestigious award for us,” says Vipond. “Going through that rigorous assessment and coming out as a winner was great validation for our business as a champion in society. It also demonstrates that you can be fully committed to sustainability while also running a successful business. But there are a lot of good organisations who are making a difference, and it is important that we recognise them and bring them to the fore too. The business world is really stepping up to the plate now and I see change happening”
She reminds us that sustainability is attractive to customers too. “Customers are making decisions based on green credentials and it makes sense for businesses to move in that direction and show that they are committed. But it needs to be authentic and permeate the business. And the business has to make a genuine impact,” she says.
The applicants that will catch Vipond’s eye will be the ones that make this positive impact. “I want to understand what they're trying to achieve,” she says, “and it has to be contextual. I would like applications to have a people focus because, ultimately, behaviour change is really important if something's going to stick. And it has to appeal to people. I'm looking for a narrative that will make people want to listen, but it must be underpinned by real data. And I want it to be able to deliver real change.”
Ultimately, it’s all about sustainability and finance working holistically, collaboratively, and for there to be a meeting of minds. “Importantly, we need the green option to be the obvious option,” she says.
Follow this link for the 2021 Finance for the Future (F4TF) Awards.