How to get into sustainable finance

While sustainable finance might not have a standard career path, that's exactly what makes it a thrilling journey of discovery. A specialized master’s degree like EDHEC’s MSc in Climate Change & Sustainable Finance, delivered in partnership with Mines Paris – PSL, a renowned engineering school, is a good place to start.

In short

What is sustainable finance?

Despite the name, sustainable finance isn’t just linked to environmental sustainability. In essence, sustainable finance is an integrative approach where the allocation of funds goes beyond merely seeking financial returns. It prioritizes initiatives, projects, and companies that serve broader societal goals, including environmental conservation, social inclusivity, and good governance practices. It combines traditional financial analysis with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria, promoting sustainable economic growth and long-term value creation for both investors and society.

David Olivier Zerbib is the Program Director of the MSc in Climate Change & Sustainable Finance at EDHEC Business School in France. According to David, sustainable finance is a “broad concept” that “touches on the notions of how we, as investors, can have a positive impact on society through our investments.” (01:43)

This can include everything from mitigating climate change and using sustainable resources to promoting human rights and increasing diversity. One example of sustainable finance would be investing in a renewable energy project. But it could also be an investment into a company committed to equal pay across all genders and races.

Previously seen as a disruptive industry, sustainable finance is now widely-accepted and rapidly growing in popularity. Businesses increasingly understand that it’s possible to make wise investment decisions that benefit both the company and the world itself.

For instance, the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) announced its intention to incorporate more than 100,000 new employees to assist on ESG issues.

Now that we have a better understanding of what sustainable finance is, let’s take a look at how you can get into a sustainable finance role.

Studying a specialized master’s program

A master’s degree is a strong starting point for a career in sustainable finance. It gives you the technical knowledge, practical experience, and professional network you need to break into the industry.

In EDHEC’s program, that knowledge is developed through a range of projects throughout the 12 months. They focus on topics like sustainable agriculture, the circular economy, and how to embed climate metrics into traditional risk metrics.

“The students work on their project with an institution and they are evaluated on the solution they can offer to the institution,” says David. “And the solution is often theoretical and empirical. So you have to design a solution and apply this solution.” (02:49)

Practical experience in finance, and specifically within sustainability-related projects, is invaluable. Thanks to this mixture of knowledge and practice, graduates have an excellent grounding for success in the industry.

Their abilities are further enhanced by the engineering knowledge they’re provided with.

Gaining technical knowledge of sustainability

EDHEC’s MSc in Climate Change & Sustainable Finance is one of a growing number of master’s programs promoting the values and importance of sustainable finance. Yet it is one of very few that combines financial knowledge with the technical side of sustainability.

That’s only possible because EDHEC has partnered with a top-ranked engineering school, MINES Paris – PSL, to deliver the program. Gilles Guerassimoff, the Program Director at MINES Paris – PSL, says engineering is an integral part of the course.

“[The students] have to master the basics of physics – it is one part of the curriculum,” he says. “And after that, they must have a lot of knowledge of all the energy chains and all the actual technology, and all the future technology.” (00:46)

“We have some specific courses on energy chain for production and, of course, to master what is the life of a system. What we call the life cycle assessment of the system. To be sure that when we are designing a new system, it’s designed in a good way, with the lowest impact on the environment.” (01:20)

This well-rounded knowledge of engineering and finance is a considerable asset for sustainable finance companies.

For example, let’s say you take on the role of sustainable investor at a bank after graduating. Without understanding the concepts such as energy chain production and life cycle assessments, you may not fully appreciate an investment’s value. 

Simply put, if you understand the technical side of sustainability, you’ll be better placed to make sound investment decisions.

Pivoting to sustainable finance from a different role

A career in sustainable finance was once unheard of, but this is no longer the case. Today, there is high demand for professionals with skills in both traditional finance and sustainability. 

The role has no standard career path because sustainable finance is a relatively new area. According to David, a career in sustainable finance can take many different forms.

“The range of jobs offered is quite broad,” he explains. “It can be a sustainable investor; in a bank or in a management company. Sustainable economists at the IMF, the World Bank, or a central bank, or a sustainable analyst in a consulting company, or an NGO.” (02:14)

As David illustrates, there aren’t necessarily a huge number of sustainable finance companies. Instead, roles in the industry often come in the form of branches within larger organizations such as the IMF or investment banks.

For this reason, your route into sustainable finance may not be a linear one. Consider firstly targeting a job within the finance industry – perhaps at a bank or VC firm. Then you could bring sustainability into your role.

If you’re hoping to break into sustainable finance, the field looks set to grow in the coming years. That’s good news for you and good news for our planet.

If you’re interested in learning more about the master’s programs at EDHEC, feel free to reach out to one of our EDHEC ambassadors.

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