In the interview, Sabine Döbeli, CEO of Swiss Sustainable Finance, explains how companies can prevent greenwashing as a means to an end and what SSF's roadmap looks like.

Sabine Döbeli, CEO of  Swiss Sustainable Finance

Sabine Döbeli, CEO of Swiss Sustainable Finance

In December, Swiss Sustainable Finance unveiled its road map with recommended actions for the Swiss financial services sector. What role can audit and advisory service providers such as KPMG play in helping to achieve the goals included in the road map?

The road map for a sustainable Swiss financial services sector includes measures for all major players in the financial industry. For example, these recommended actions include clearly anchoring sustainability-related targets at the heart of a company's business strategy or addressing the lack of transparency around financial products. Audit and advisory service providers can support companies with achieving their targets in a variety of ways: in their role as advisors, they ensure the sustainability strategy covers all relevant areas of activity and the corporate structure is optimally organized to achieve targets. What's more, having targets and sustainability reports verified externally is also becoming more and more important. This offers huge potential as a revenue stream for auditors, in my mind.

Companies need to have clearly defined targets and obligations, as well as appropriate reporting mechanisms, in order to access and maintain funding options. What can be done to prevent businesses from using "greenwashing" as a means to an end in this regard?

For one thing, it's important to base sustainability reports and targets on international standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative or the "Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures" (TCFD) for reporting on climate risks. As I mentioned before, having these targets and reports verified by an independent third party can help to further increase the credibility of the reporting. There's also the matter of providing climate reports for investors; last November, the Swiss Federal Council announced that it wants to develop quality criteria for climate indicators – requirements like that can also help to increase trust.

You said in an interview that well-run companies with good sustainability strategies perform better in terms of key financial indicators. Can you explain this claim?

I was answering a question about whether companies that have a greater focus on sustainability generate more revenue in the financial sector. It's one of those questions that doesn't have a simple "yes" or "no" answer. Based on many years of experience with sustainable investments, the majority of academic studies show that there's a positive correlation between good commitment to sustainability and good key financial indicators. Many cases across a range of markets, sectors and sustainability-related aspects show that a higher sustainability rating goes hand in hand with lower risks for the same return. Investors can therefore minimize risks by factoring sustainability-related aspects into their investment decisions. This is also one of the reasons why many institutional investors such as pension funds now take the sustainability factor into account as part of their investment decision-making processes.

Let's peer into the future for a moment: Where do you think Switzerland will be five years from now in terms of sustainability?

I'd like to think that by then, we'll have modified the legal framework conditions in many sectors (such as construction and mobility) in a way that will make sustainable business practices economically worthwhile for the players involved. I also think that we'll have better integrated the principle of sustainability into all training and vocational education courses by that point. I'm confident that the financial industry will also consistently factor sustainability-related information into investment and financing decision-making processes in the near future. Measures such as these are designed to help us accelerate the rate at which these required changes are implemented and put us on the path towards an environmentally conscious economy – we aren't quite there yet. 

The financial news portal finews includes you as one of the eight women on its list of "Swiss Finance's Women To Watch in 2022". How would you inspire other women to start a career in finance?

Women are still under-represented in the financial industry – it's a real shame, as I'm convinced that there are a huge range of interesting career options in this sector. In my own experience, I see women undervaluing themselves time and time again and not applying for challenging jobs in the finance industry. All I can do is encourage all women to take that first step by applying. There's a wide selection of roles within sustainable finance in particular – in the fields of portfolio management, risk management or banking, to name a few – that deal with much more than purely financial issues and involve creating added value for customers and society as a whole.

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