In the latest in FINN’s From The Top series, we talk to Steve Varley, Global Vice Chair Sustainability at EY.

EY is a global professional services firm, employing over 340,000 people, specialising in helping their clients to improve their businesses, with a significant sustainability practice that is active across the world, assisting clients to create more value by being more sustainable.

Charting a pathway to reducing emissions

Commenting at the Farnborough International Airshow on what specifically EY can do to help clients become more sustainable, Varley said: “One of the things that we can help you do is look at the scope of your carbon emissions, assess your greenhouse gas emissions, and help you chart a pathway to reduce those emissions.

“But at the same time, creating value for your stakeholders, whether they be your financial shareholders, whether they be other parts of society, your employees, your customers. So our approach is about value creation by helping you work within what’s called ‘planetary boundaries’ to deliver your business.”

Hurdles in the way of progress

When it comes to innovation in the sustainability field, there are a number of hurdles to overcome. Varley said one challenge was human talent, and the other was financing.

“One of the things that companies need to do is engagement; to engage with their broader employees to learn from them how they think the company should change, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Varley explained.

“Then the second bit is about financing. Where does the money come from to move into a green and just transition so that we make sure that people have the jobs of tomorrow as well.

“That will take financing and then you are into discussions with the major commercial banks, with governments, with multilateral development banks, sovereign wealth funds, maybe private equity. This is a significant financial endeavour, as much as a human one.”

Focus on 2050

Asked about the push for global carbon neutrality by 2050, Varley said even that deadline might not be ambitious enough to solve the sustainability challenge.

“I really do think 2050 could be too late. If you look at what’s happening now with climate science, and as many of us get ready for COP 27 – the UN Climate Change Conference will take place in Egypt this year – I think that the advice and the signs are going to be that we need to do a real hard break from greenhouse gas emissions today,” he said.

“Otherwise, we’re going to overshoot that 2050 horizon. It’s not just about agility. I think it’s about acceleration. I think fundamentally, it’s a discussion in your organisation to work out what you can do tomorrow. What new equipment do you need to reduce your greenhouse gases?

“What new ways of working you find and then fundamentally back to customers? If we can get a customer driven revolution, where customers are pressing organisations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, I think then we in business have a chance to play a really positive role in greenhouse gas reductions.”

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