Who will the 1.6 million teens marching for climate want to work for?

Firms will have to change their business model to attract staff in a low carbon world

Schoolchildren stage a climate change protest in Sydney, Australia, earlier this month. When they graduate, will they want to work for a fossil fuel company? Photograph:  Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Schoolchildren stage a climate change protest in Sydney, Australia, earlier this month. When they graduate, will they want to work for a fossil fuel company? Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

 

Sustainable finance is the cornerstone in the business side of climate change mitigation. Two of the best strategies to change corporations are:

– creating incentives for the financing of green activities; and

– de-funding those companies which resist climate science or continue to extract, process and/or burn fossil fuels, to the detriment of the planet and generations to come.

Creating the right framework for sustainable finance to flourish is complicated, and that’s why the European Commission has developed an action plan for financing sustainable growth. To advance the plan, the commission sought support for its work, relying on the recommendations of a high-level expert group and now a technical expert group, of which UCD Smurfit School’s Prof Andreas Hoepner, one of the co-authors, is a member.

Later this year, the Commission will publish its green taxonomy to inform which economic activities are environmentally sustainable, therefore providing some guidance of where growth in the green economy is likely to come from.

Transitioning to a low-carbon economy has profound implications across all sectors and professions. Organisations need to consider how to incorporate graduates from programmes in environmental finance, engineering for renewable energy or environmental management.

Even for those who pursue degrees and careers that are not related to the environment, understanding the implications of the low-carbon transition in their industry and their role can still provide enhanced career and business opportunities.

Recruitment

With over 1.6 million students joining the worldwide School Strike 4 Climate movement in March, many pupils seem to consider that it is not worthwhile to study, or work, towards a future that reinforces the business models and industries that are responsible for the climate crisis.

A company’s stance on climate change and the environment may therefore impact on recruitment and employee retention efforts.

More stringent environmental legislation and societal pressure can result in increased costs of capital for environmentally irresponsible companies, and in turn can result in increased investment in environmentally sustainable companies. The workforce will pursue the more profitable opportunities chasing the low-carbon world.

Reputation

Will graduates want to work for a fossil fuel company or in the fossil fuel industry? If so, can they change things from within? Perhaps, provided these organisations are truly open to transformational change.

However, scientists across the world agree that, in order to stop the most dangerous impacts of climate change, we need to reach a net-zero carbon economy. In other words, we would need to stop emitting fossil fuels altogether and keep much of fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

If the company avoids greenwashing and political lobbying against effective climate measures and is actively interested in changing its business model, working there could still provide long-term career opportunities.

To date, we are aware of too few examples of this being the case. Our own research shows that fossil fuel companies face greater and greater pressure from governments and sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and civil society through their fossil fuel divestment pledges, which are already negatively impacting the amount of new investment fossil fuel companies receive (Cojoianu et al, 2019).

The main question on any company’s mind should be: for whom would the more than 1.6 million teens marching for climate want to work for in 10 years’ time? We think they already spoke loud and clear.

Currently, there are more employers interested in graduates from UCD’s Masters in Renewable Energy and Environmental Finance program than there are students.

Andreas Hoepner is professor of operational risk, banking & finance at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.

Dr Theodor Cojoianu is a postdoctoral research fellow and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School

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