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oikos Alumnus Varun Sarda: “oikos developed my interest in sustainable finance”

“At the Winter School, I experienced the spirit of oikos”

I first came across oikos while studying at university. A friend of mine who was active in oikos London told me about the organisation, and a couple of weeks later, I joined the oikos London team at the London School of Economics. I really enjoyed this experience and, a couple of months later, I subsequently participated in the oikos Winter School at the University of St. Gallen. There I experienced the spirit of oikos and was impressed by the outreach of the organisation and what it was trying to achieve at leading schools around the world. With this in mind, I subsequently joined the oikos International Executive Board and experienced the same oikos spirit internationally, discovering what all can be achieved when a group of like-minded individuals come together to drive change collectively within their sphere of influence.

“You’re never far away from an oikos Alumnus in the professional sphere”

As time would tell, this was the beginning of a life-long friendship with oikos and its alumni. I think it would be fair to say that my experience with oikos while at university played a role in helping me to develop an interest in sustainable finance. Importantly, I’ve made some great friends from my involvement with oikos and continue to want to remain involved with oikos London. I’ve also learnt that you’re never far away from an oikos Alumnus in the professional sphere, so it’s always great to be able to meet fellow alumni in meetings, share experiences and learn about how oikos has played a role in their own careers!

“After four years of consulting, I wanted to gain experience on the client side”

During my studies, I completed various internships – for a development non-governmental organisation, for a mining company in their health, safety and environment department, and at Innovest (since absorbed into MSCI ESG Research).  This gave me a pretty good idea that I was interested in the area of sustainable finance.  So after completing my Masters, I went to work for EIRIS (now VigeoEIRIS) as an analyst of the Resources and Pharma sectors.

After 18 months, I took up a deferred place at PWC in London and joined their Sustainability & Climate Change consulting practice where I focussed on financial services.  Here I worked with different banks, private equity firms and asset managers helping them to evolve their sustainability approach and develop policies and procedures in this space.  The whole area was very new for many of them and so there were lots of opportunities to help them define their strategy, approach and implementation as well as capacity-building.

After four and a half years, I decided that it would be good to gain some experience on the client side.  So, I jumped ship and joined the Environmental, Social & Ethical Risk (ESE) Advisory Team at The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). This involved identifying and assessing the ESE and reputational risks presented by customer activities in different sectors (for example, Oil & Gas, Power, Mining & Metals, Agribusiness, Defence, etc) and advising senior approval committees. This was a great introduction into the world of how sustainable finance really works.

“Today, I am a senior ‘Sustainability Ambassador’ for RBS and handle socially responsible investors”

After two and a half years, I was looking to pursue a role that would allow me to both leverage on my skills and experience in sustainability and reputational risk management, but also allow me to work on (corporate) sustainability strategy and investor engagement. With this in mind, I moved into RBS’ Sustainability / Sustainable Banking function. I’ve now been in the team for two and a half years. I lead RBS’s engagement with socially responsible investors (SRI) on sustainability-related topics and the bank’s approach to sustainability reporting. I am also responsible for leading the review of RBS’s environmental, social and ethical (ESE) risk appetite positions, identifying emerging sustainability and reputational risks and engage with relationship and risk management teams. Other responsibilities include strategy work, engaging with external stakeholders and representing RBS at industry fora. For example, I am a senior ‘Sustainability Ambassador’ for the bank at the Banking Environment Initiative, which is run by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. As part of this I get involved in their work on the Soft Commodities Compact with various banks.

What would your perfect weekend involve?

My wife and I have a toddler who is an absolute bundle of joy! So, he has our full attention on the weekends. Beyond that, it’s often about trying to find some time to do the things that I enjoy doing beyond the usual weekend chores: for example, socialising with friends and family, going for a long run in the park or exploring the outdoors. I love trekking but this has taken a bit of a back-seat in recent months.

Varun Sarda, oikos Executive Board Member and Member, oikos London. Each month, we feature one of our alumni. Read more Alumni Portraits.