Members of U of T and the business community discuss sustainable investing at the School of the Environment’s third annual Willis and White Thought Leadership Event

Tuesday, December 22, 2015 11:35:00 AM

See more photos on School of the Environment Flickr

The School of the Environment was pleased to hold its third annual Willis and White Thought Leadership Event on December 16, 2015.  It combined an informative and thought-provoking panel discussion on “Can Sustainable Investing Save the World? Lessons Learned and Reasons for Optimism” with the presentation of two undergraduate scholarships.  This event was organized by the School’s Environmental Finance Advisory Committee and hosted by the School’s Director, Kimberly Strong.  

Martin Whittaker Panellists
Thought Leadership Event keynote speaker Martin Whittaker, and panelists Joy Williams, Andrew Park, Jane Kearns, and Gerry Rocchi.

The keynote speaker was Martin Whittaker, Chief Executive Officer of JUST Capital in NYC, who reflected on how sustainable investing has grown over the past 15 years, and the changing dynamics both good and bad, and also described some of the opportunities for, and challenges to, future growth in this area.  He was joined by four panelists, each approaching the topic from a different angle.  Joy Williams, Environmental Specialist, Responsible Investing, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, spoke about Ontario Teachers’ responsible investing initiative, how it affects their investments, and how a renewed and consistent focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues drives better investment management.  Andrew Park, Former Head of Sustainable Finance Programs for Bloomberg LP's Sustainable Business & Finance Group talked about reporting standards, financial data and the challenges of ESG integration.  He was followed by Jane Kearns, Senior Advisor, Cleantech, MaRS, who spoke about Canadian cleantech innovation and the exciting new opportunities that have the power to change the world through investment in new technologies and companies that are positioned to dramatically improve the odds of avoiding catastrophic climate change, effectively manage our precious water resources, and feed our ever-growing global population.  The final panelist was Gerry Rocchi, CEO of Green Power Action, the manager of the Greening Canada Fund, and a director of Standard Life Investments.  He argued that sustainable investing is a necessary part of the solution but cannot save the world on its own; it needs special conditions to play its part and so we should be smart about enabling those conditions.  The panel was moderated by Toby Heaps, President of Corporate Knights, who also guided a question and answer session with a very engaged audience.

The second part of the evening involved the presentation of two scholarships established to honour the memory of Rodney White and Skip Willis, both former members of the School’s Environmental Finance Advisory Committee (EFAC), which was formed in 2003 to provide a forum for the exchange of innovative ideas in environmental finance between the University and the private sector. 

Sonia Labatt, an EFAC member and a member of the Faculty of Arts & Science Dean's Advisory Board at U of T spoke about Rodney White, who was a close friend and colleague.  Together, they co-authored two books Environmental Finance and Carbon Finance, topics which are becoming increasingly relevant as the importance of carbon pricing becomes ever more widely recognized.  Rodney White was a Professor in the Department of Geography, and from 1994 to 2005, he served as the Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies, a forerunner of the School of the Environment. Rodney was an internationally renowned authority in transdisciplinary and international research relating to urban and environmental infrastructure and management, adaptation to climate change, and environmental risk and liability.  

Kim Strong Sonia Labatt Gray Taylor
Thought Leadership Event host Kimberly Strong, and speakers Sonia Labatt and Gray Taylor.

It was these interests that led to the establishment of EFAC, where Rodney brought together academic and business leaders in the fields of environmental finance, business, law, and management.  One of these leaders was Errick “Skip” Willis, principal of the Willis Climate Group, who was an internationally recognized business advisor on climate change and greenhouse gas markets in Canada.  His focus was on developing solutions that would unite the interests of the environment and business by bringing market solutions to climate change issues.  Skip was also dedicated to the education and mentoring of the next generation of leaders in the area where business and environment can overlap, and he took great pride in his role as a visiting lecturer in the Carbon Finance program at U of T.  Gray Taylor, Barrister and Solicitor with Gray Taylor Law, and Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Environment at the School, spoke about Skip Willis and noted how his legacy lives on through his ideas and the people he mentored, some of whom were actively engaged in the recent COP21 Climate Conference in Paris.

This year we were delighted to award the second Rodney White Environmental Studies Scholarship and the third Skip Willis Undergraduate Scholarship.  These scholarships have been established by the families and friends of Rodney and Skip.  The School of the Environment is very grateful to both families for choosing to endow the scholarships here for our students, and to all of the donors for their generous contributions.

Sue White and Rodney White scholarship recipient Kelly Willis and Skip Willis scholarship recipient

The Rodney White Environmental Studies Scholarship is awarded to a third-year undergraduate student on the basis of academic merit, with preference to a student studying topics relating to environment and international development.  This year’s winner was Kayla Kraiker, who is doing a double major in Environmental Studies and Political Science, and has a particular interest in the intersection of international development, climate and ecological justice, and environmental governance.  Sue White introduced Kayla and presented her with the scholarship.

The Skip Willis Undergraduate Scholarship is awarded on the basis of academic merit, with preference for demonstrated passion for issues directly related to adaption and mitigation of climate change, including interest in the use of international capital markets and the linkages to international carbon offset project as solutions to the challenge of climate change.  The winner this year was Francesca Hannan, who is pursuing a double major in Environmental Studies and Economics, as she strives to become an environmental-economic thinker in seeking solutions to environmental problems.  Francesca was introduced by Kelly Willis, who presented the scholarship to her.

The formal proceedings were followed by a reception, which continued well into the evening.  The event was held downtown in the offices of Bennett Jones LLP, who kindly provided the venue, and it was attended by about 50 members of the business community, as well as faculty, students, and members and friends of the Willis and White families.  The School of the Environment encourages interdisciplinary study of a range of environmental issues.  With events such as this, we continue to foster interaction and engagement between faculty, students, and the wider community beyond the University.

Toby HeapsMartin WhittakerJoy WilliamsAndrew ParkJane KearnsGerry Rocchi
Left to right: Thought Leadership Event moderator Toby Heaps, keynote speaker Martin Whittaker, and panelists Joy Williams, Andrew Park, Jane Kearns, and Gerry Rocchi.