Rosalind Rossouw reflects on the Sustainability Volunteer Group’s achievements to date – and looks to future opportunities
The Sustainability Volunteer Group (SVG) was launched in September 2020 and plays a critical role in supporting the IFoA and the Sustainability Board. Since its inception, many of its members have been drawn upon to assist with various sustainability-related activities, such as producing guidance and performing research via working parties.
The SVG model aims to be nimbler, simpler and more open than the traditional IFoA volunteering approach. It achieves this through fostering a community of individuals who are interested in sustainability and want to help out. Members have no minimum expected level of commitment and are kept informed of any opportunities that they can then apply for. The SVG also provides a platform to engage members and communicate sustainability information.
The SVG currently has 317 volunteer members and is open to applications. A fundamental attribute that contributes to its success is diversity – the SVG welcomes support from all actuarial and other disciplines. While experienced support is occasionally required, support is also needed from those who are enthusiastic and wish to get more involved and engaged in sustainability.
The group has a mix of sustainability experience as well as broader work experience, and the current student-Fellow ratio is broadly 50-50. Although more than half of our members are from the UK, volunteers come from all over the world (see Figure 1).
Achievements to date
There has been a continual flow of opportunities and engagements to grow volunteer efforts – so far, 60 volunteer members have been recruited to support more than 10 key activities. Key SVG achievements of the past year include:
- Engagement and information flow – The SVG digital support team prepares and promotes content to increase actuarial engagement on sustainability. Volunteers enjoy opportunities to build sustainability contacts within the actuarial community, increase their knowledge on sustainability issues, and help raise awareness and knowledge. The team circulates a weekly newsletter (bit.ly/SFC_newsletter) containing the latest sustainable finance news and updates. In 2020 the team recruited a further four SVG volunteers, who helped launch a number of new initiatives, including a LinkedIn group, a book club and a sustainability interview series.
- The Biodiversity Working Party – This received the highest expression of interest by SVG volunteers to date, and has been the group’s most significant achievement in that the work of 20 authors, alongside multiple reviewers, culminated in the production of five papers on this topic. The ‘Planting the seeds’ blog (bit.ly/PlantingtheSeeds) summarises the biodiversity sessionals and includes links to the papers.
- Film discussion panel – The SVG hosted a one-hour panel discussion of the new WWF film Our Planet: Too Big To Fail (bit.ly/OurPlanetTBTF), inspired by the Our Planet Netflix series. The film explores the risks of inaction, the impact of investing-as-usual, and the role the finance sector can play in powering a sustainable future. The panel included experts in the field, including Raymond Dhirani, head of sustainable finance and green economy at the WWF. This event brought many international volunteers together virtually and is expected to be the first of many.
- Climate Risk and Sustainability course pilot – As part of the overall action plan on climate risk, the IFoA is working to develop a climate change and sustainability course for actuaries. SVG volunteers in the Sustainability Credential Working Group were involved in helping to develop the syllabus and content for this (see page 10). A sustainability course pilot was launched in June and the feedback is now being evaluated.
Although their achievements and activities vary, the volunteers share a commonality – they are IFoA members who have given up their time to make a difference. Actuaries’ ability to evaluate and manage long-term risk is transferable to sustainability and we have been encouraged by current and past presidents to get involved.
The SVG is looking to expand the support offered to international associations, and to encourage further engagement within the SVG, as well as between the SVG and actuarial societies around the world.
If you would like to expand our reach by leading or promoting sustainability in your local actuarial society, helping organise a regional book club or film discussion or, regulations permitting, a local gathering, get in touch at bit.ly/Volunteer_Sustain
There are also groups supported by SVG volunteers working towards publishing their output. Activity to look out for includes:
- The Intergenerational Fairness Working Party – This was the very first call to SVG members, and received a response well above what the Sustainability Board thought was achievable. The working party was formed to progress the work that the IFoA previously produced on intergenerational fairness relating to climate change, retirement and social care (bit.ly/IntergenFair). In wider fields such as economics, philosophy and ethics, there is already a well-established debate around discount rates, and the aim was to spark a wider debate within the profession, including revisiting the discount rate topic. Following on from past research, the working party’s objective is to produce a consolidated IFoA position statement on intergenerational fairness, extending the work produced to date in the areas of pensions, social care and climate change.
- The Opportunities and Careers Sub-Group – This group was established to identify how actuaries can find sustainability-focused opportunities and develop their sustainability knowledge and interest. The group will also examine how actuaries can establish themselves professionally by following a sustainability-focused career path, and hopes to encourage and inspire others by profiling those who have successfully done so, especially those who work for ‘non-traditional’ actuarial employers and outside of financial services.
- Investment Sub-Group – SVG volunteers were recruited to provide sub-group support to the Sustainability and Finance & Investment Boards with the preparation and execution of a plan to help actuaries working in investment appropriately include climate change considerations.
- Carbon Emissions Working Group – This is a joint Sustainability Board/Presidential Team working group established to address actuarial aspects of carbon emissions and offsets. By considering the time value of carbon and how it should be allowed for from an actuarial context, SVG volunteers will consider ways to work towards a coherent understanding of the issues around carbon emissions, offsets and achieving net zero.
- Practical guide to Climate Change for Risk Management Actuaries – The Sustainability Board published an introductory guide to climate change and practical guides (bit.ly/Sustain_guides) for actuaries working in pensions, life and general insurance to help explain how these issues are relevant to their work and associated actuarial advice. As part of the IFoA’s overall action plan on climate risk, SVG members volunteered to support the production of a new practical guide to provide cross-practice guidance to support risk management actuaries.
Rosalind Rossouw is head of IFRS 17 business implications and capital management at Sun Life Financial of Canada, an IFoA Sustainability Board member and an SVG lead