In 2017, HSBC announced its five sustainability commitments, which are underpinned by the goal of providing $100 billion in sustainable financing and investment to develop clean energy and lower-carbon technologies through 2025. It was around this time that Paul Stanley, now Vice President of Corporate Sustainability for the bank, was earning his Masters in Sustainable Finance from Columbia University. We asked him to tell us a bit about himself and what sustainability means to him – at work, at home and for the world. Here’s what he had to say.
The journey to corporate sustainability
I’ve always been interested in making an impact in whatever job I’m doing. It started in college when I was the Executive Director for Syracuse University’s Habitat for Humanity chapter. I worked with other Syracuse students to fully fund and build a new house each year in the local area and also recruited around 200 students for alternative spring break trips.
Shortly after I graduated, I joined HSBC on the retail financing side of HSBC. I spent two years learning various aspects of the business – from media relations, to mergers and acquisitions, to product management, to branch sales. Then, in 2013, I applied and was given the opportunity to join the corporate sustainability team.
At first, I was responsible on supporting the bank’s nonprofit giving and employee volunteer programs, which I loved because I saw the immediate impact. Still, at some point, I also became interested in expanding my knowledge so I could contribute to a longer-term solution. So I went back to school to earn my Masters in Sustainability Management at Columbia. That’s what led me to the position I am in today, where I get to work with all lines of business within the bank to drive a sustainable finance agenda to help clients as they transition toward low carbon.
Making a difference is more important to me now than ever, as my wife and I are expecting our first child – a son. I know there’s a lot we can control, but we’ve come to realize there is so much about climate and sustainability that we can’t – but that will touch his life. That’s why I take a lot of pride in my work and the impact it’s having on the future.
How the sustainable finance industry is changing
Most large companies have had sustainability departments for quite some time. At first, these teams concentrated mostly on internal sustainability goals – like reducing greenhouse emissions and recycling more. As sustainability teams have become more integrated with the finance and procurement departments, however, there’s an increased focus on building a more climate-resilient supply chain.
One of our clients, Walmart, is a perfect example. As the world’s largest retailer, Walmart has invested a lot of resources into becoming a sustainable company – and in 2019, they decided to take their commitments a step further. They partnered with HSBC to implement a unique program that sets a supplier’s financing rate to its sustainability standards.
Our research is also telling us that in many areas of the world, shares in climate- and ESG-focused businesses outperformed others as COVID spread. This could be due partly to the social and environmental impact we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic – driving investors to potentially weigh ESG factors more heavily because of it.
Globally, there’s also a growing interest in green and sustainability linked loans, which allow companies to align their financing with their ESG ambitions. This funding strategy has been moving across Asia and Europe and interest is growing in the U.S.
What should people know about sustainability
It’s not enough to focus within a company’s four walls and its own operations any more. We need to think upstream and downstream. We really need to be looking at the entire ecosystem.
Using financing to change supplier behavior, as the Walmart program does, is an excellent example of upstream thinking. Now companies need to turn their attention downstream by looking at what they can do to impact the behavior of their customers. Take cell phones, for instance. Manufacturers and suppliers should be asking themselves what they can do to make it easier for users to recycle every part of their cell phones when they are done with them. The goal is to help both companies and their customers lower their carbon footprints.
As we learn more, cross-industry collaboration is also a must. No company within a single sector is going to able to do this alone. We need to continually share data and ideas if we’re going to successfully build a more sustainable world.