Shaping a sustainable future with Waterloo

Monday, August 16, 2021
by Farah Mohd Fadzil, S21 SAF Communications Associate

The University of Waterloo is set to launch a new program: Sustainability and Financial Management

Climate change is accelerating, and the world is in need of leaders to make a significant impact in the present and future. Businesses around the world are incorporating environmental and sustainable factors in their strategic plans.

With increased attention on sustainability and social responsibility in business, the University of Waterloo is launching a new program, Sustainability and Financial Management (SFM). A collaboration between the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) and the Faculty of Environment, students of the SFM program will be trained to take the lead on shaping a sustainable path for businesses in the future.

Rather than a finance program with an emphasis on sustainability or vice versa, the new SFM program is a first of its kind in Canada and is targeted to students who are interested in mastering both fields equally. Using the metaphor of a double-helix DNA, the SFM program will integrate sustainability and finance to train students in becoming green finance experts.

Photo of windmills and field

A demand for sustainablity finance leaders

“We believe that sustainability should be our new standard for investing… awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental re-shaping of finance,” wrote Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock Investments, in the letters to CEOs and clients in January 2020.

The interest in sustainability in entrepreneurship is evidently growing. Dillon, a student at SAF, is a co-founder of PickWaste, a non-profit organization that conducts weekly community cleanups across Canada. “Four years ago, I noticed an absurd amount of litter while walking home from school and made a commitment to voluntarily organize community cleanups to pick it up. The small action of cleaning the community grew into a national movement,” states Dillon about how PickWaste started.

The SFM program provides an opportunity for students who aspire to be future leaders, such as Dillon, in the growing sustainable finance world. Another SAF student, Joyce, leverages opportunities within social ventures to not only build her experiences in social governance, but to also perform a good deed. “I have learned in school to support business functions and be a part of amazing social good objective[s].” As a past member of Greenhouse, a social impact incubator at St. Paul’s University College, Joyce was able to work with a team in making sustainable changes on campus.

Students like Dillon and Joyce highlight the demand for individuals who are knowledgeable and have the skills to work in sustainable finance. The new SFM program provides an opportunity for future students to apply their knowledge and skills in shaping our sustainable future. The new degree prepares future leaders by training them in teamwork, problem-solving, communication, and data analytics skills while studying climate change and public policy. Not only will future students get to learn these skills in class, but they will also be able to apply and master these skills at workplaces through co-op terms.

Career opportunities for a greener future

Graduates of the SFM program will enter the professional world with a unique skill-set that allows them to lead the path to corporate success through sustainable finance. Businesses are starting to see the importance of embracing and incorporating green initiatives into their strategies and organizational goals. Leading this trend are organizations like Google and Microsoft, which are committed to being carbon negative by the year 2030, with a goal to globally promote sustainable development.

Business leaders are emphasizing the need to incorporate sustainability in their business practices, like SAF alum Susan Uthayakumar (MAcc ’95). Susan who is in the Global Sustainability Business Division at Schneider Electric Canada was instrumental in transforming Schneider Electric into a digital power and automation technology company that drives sustainability, efficiency, and resiliency. Susan felt the need for this drastic shift in operations because “climate change is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’, so everyone should be thinking about, ‘How do they get ready for the changes that has already happened and how do they stay relevant in the marketplace?’”

With the new SFM program, graduates will be well ahead in staying aware of the current and future employment demands in the field of sustainable finance.