ENBUS grad Eric Lam named top 30 under 30

Friday, November 25, 2022

Photo of Eric Lam courtesy of Corporate KnightsEnvironment & Business grad Eric Lam (BES 2018) was recently recognized as one of Corporate Knights’ Top 30 under 30 Sustainability Leaders of 2022. Awarded annually, the list celebrates Canadian youth leaders making waves in sustainability.

The theme for this year’s list is “The fight for a better tomorrow.” For Eric, who works as an Economic Advisor on Energy Transition and Finance for Environment and Climate Change Canada, that means fighting greenwashing and working to ensure financial institutions are taking action on their net-zero commitments. As the private finance lead for Team Canada in the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a joint initiative between Canada and the U.K. that works to phase out global coal power generation, Eric is on the front lines of coal phase-out when engaging financial institutions on their financial services and investments.

Eric joins a prestigious group of 20 Environment alumni recognized on the Corporate Knight’s Top 30
Under 30 Sustainability List since it began in 2015.

Q & A with Eric Lam, (BES 2018)

How did your experience at Waterloo influence your career path and development?

Being a part of the co-op program allowed me to try placements in the private and public sector as well as in academia. My time at the University of Waterloo helped me figure out I was passionate about climate change and the environment. It gave me the opportunity to partake in an international exchange to Lancaster University where I learned I am passionate about renewable energy following a course I took and a visit to the UK's Drax Coal Power Plant! 

I also got involved at the university, which helped boost my resume going out into the real world. I was president of WEBS and volunteered for the university’s former "Sustainable Campus Initiative".

Waterloo, and being a part of the faculty of environment, really put me in a great community of like-minded people, many of whom are passionate about the environment. 

Are you working on any project(s) now and what’s the impact on the community?

The Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) just hit its 5th year Anniversary at COP27 and has now reached over 165 members. Since the PPCA’s inception, over 75 percent of coal power in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries is retiring or scheduled to close by 2030. 

Right now, I am working with PPCA members to refresh the PPCA Finance Principles with the latest science and state-of-the-art on coal phase out. The Finance Principles are the commitment finance members commit to when joining the PPCA. Once updated, the goal will be to increase PPCA membership to get more financial institutions to commit to phasing out coal on a science-based timeline. 

What advice would you have for students interested in the sustainable finance sector?

Use co-op to your advantage. If students are part of the co-op program, to try different things out. Co-op is great to figure out what you like and what you don't like. Definitely try to do one co-op placement in government as it leaves options open for you once you graduate and can allow you to be 'bridged".

For students interested in the sustainable finance sector, this field unfortunately is really starting to take off even though it should have been ages ago. While financial institutions are now really considering ESG and are expected to be transparent when it comes to their financial services and investments and phasing out fossil fuels, the pace at which it is happening isn't fast enough. My advice for students interested in the sustainable finance sector is to keep up to date on the current challenges in this field. Right now, the big challenge is data. The field is constantly changing and evolving as it’s such a big field, keep up to date on emerging trends, find what interests you and try to get experience in that area.  

Working in Sustainability can be very difficult and often demoralizing. In my current role, I often hear “no” when engaging with financial institutions to get them to phase out coal. I always ask myself, why is it so hard for them to just stop investing in coal? It often makes me feel helpless and feel that I can’t do my part to help limit global warming. However, I have to keep reminding myself that as an individual I don't have the sole burden to save the planet on my own. Instead, it’s important to remember that by working in this field, you are part of a movement that is doing as much as we can within the means that we have. At the end of the day, we can drown ourselves in the depressing things we see on the news, but one day we could end up being part of some amazing change.

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