Interview: “Getting to an equitable, just and net-zero world is possible”
Mindy Lubber is CEO and President of Ceres, a sustainability non-profit working with the most influential capital market leaders – investors, companies, regulators and policymakers to drive equitable policy solutions throughout the economy. She leads an all-women executive team that has inspired these leaders to take actions that will help stabilize the climate, protect water and natural resources, and build a more just and inclusive economy. In 2020, Lubber was named as one of the UN Environment Programme’s Champions of the Earth, and one of Barron’s Magazine 100 most influential women in U.S. finance for two years in a row.
What sparked your advocacy on environmental sustainability?
It goes back to high school when I started a recycling programme. In college, graduate school and law school, my complete lens was: how do I apply the skills learned to building a sustainable future? After I had my two children I thought ‘I would jump in front of a bus to save them’, but I saw that we were building a society that really is a bus coming at our kids, so perhaps there’s even an emotional tie to sustainability because I’m a mother. The thread runs deep in everything I’ve done, whether policy, politics, regulation or litigation.
What do you think has been the key to your success in convincing companies to do climate-risk assessments and adopt sustainability targets?
Staying focused and moving the biggest financial players – investors, companies, policymakers, and regulators to address climate risk. We’ve made the economic case for acting on climate and addressing the impacts, particularly on communities that are most affected. We’ve brought the most influential private sector leaders to support action through policy and regulatory changes. We’ve been working to build sustainability into capital markets and we’re starting to see very real change.
When did you see the importance of gender inequality in your work?
It’s a newer focus. It shouldn’t be, because it’s so clear that women are impacted in so many ways, and more than others. At COP26, women came on strong and stronger than ever before in a coordinated way and we realized that we’ve built something that is not just a group of activists but women presidents in banks, financial institutions and corporations. We produced a group report on why women’s role in finance is so important.
Women are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis and hold the key to equitable and sustainable economies yet they’re still excluded from the highest levels of finance. Gender equity is important in addressing climate change. I’m seeing more activity, more engagement, and acknowledgment of the unique and special role of gender in finance, equity and sustainability.
What does it take to be a successful woman leader in climate action?
Greta Thunberg is a perfect example of a young woman having an outsized impact on this world. She’s clear in her thinking that small steps have no value anymore. Her tenacity and audacity to stand up and make sacrifices and tell the truth are admirable. She tells it as it is, unfiltered and from the perspective of someone who has her whole life ahead of her – and she’s right. We deserve that criticism. She’s making an impact because she’s connecting with people. She’s connecting with youth in a way that is breaking through and we all need to learn from her.
What message would you like to share about this year’s IWD theme: ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’?
Those things are inseparable and we stovepipe ourselves at our own peril if we think we can tackle them one-by-one. It is impossible to address climate change without women and people of colour and that’s why they need to be at the table, making decisions. You can’t have climate over here and gender equality over there. We need a holistic discussion.
We also need to move from words to deeds. Getting to an equitable, just and net-zero world is possible. We need a world where finance flows are going in the right direction. We need to focus on regulatory and policy change like a laser. Every commitment must be grounded targets so we know if they’re being honoured. But we only have time to act in an audacious way. It’s not about small, but massive changes that will be inconvenient. If we don’t act, the consequences will be far greater.