Making an impact in sustainability and how you can do the same

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Sara Ronayne, an Actuary at the Government Actuary’s Department (GAD), member of our Sustainability Board, and Co-Chair of our Sustainability Early Careers Board, talks about her career, making an impact in sustainability, and how you can do the same.  

Tell us about your current job role and how you got there?

I’m an actuary at the Government Actuary’s Department (GAD), where I have worked since 2014. Over the last couple of years, climate change risk management has been a key part of my role, including supporting government departments to understand the climate risks they face and helping to embed climate considerations into GAD’s work.

I’ve been involved in a number of climate projects, but by far my favourite was spending three months seconded to HM Treasury’s COP26 Private Finance Hub, in the run up to the recent COP26 summit. I was also privileged to be able to attend COP26 in person as part of my secondment.

COP26 was a significant climate event and being part of it sounds great – can you tell us a bit more about your experience?

The COP26 Private Finance Hub was led by the UK Prime Minister’s Finance Adviser for COP26 - former Bank of England governor Mark Carney. An overarching goal was to create a global financial system where “every professional financial decision takes climate change into account.” A very simple ambition, but of course immensely challenging to put into practice!

While I was on secondment I was able to apply my analytical skills, and experience from my climate work at GAD, to support a range of new climate finance analysis challenges for the Hub’s analytical workstreams. Much of this work was high profile - some analysis was used by Mark Carney and the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in speeches before and during COP26, and several were quoted in media coverage.

This experience was – personally and professionally – extremely rewarding and helped me gain a broader perspective of the global climate landscape and its finance challenges.

How did you first become interested in or involved with sustainability issues?

I first become involved a few years ago when I was asked to undertake some research into climate risk management for GAD. I subsequently volunteered to join the IFoA-IEMA working party to create a guide for users of Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, and things have really snowballed from there.

In the beginning, most of the climate and sustainability work and research I did was in my spare time. Gradually climate and sustainability have become a more significant part of my day job, and now comprises around 75% of my work.

How do you currently advocate for sustainability in the actuarial profession?

I’m very active within GAD’s climate change group and as a sustainability volunteer for the actuarial profession.

At GAD I’ve helped to raise the profile of climate and sustainability issues within the department, including arranging and contributing to learning and development sessions for GAD staff.

Within the profession, I’m part of the IFoA Sustainability Board and have recently taken a role as Co-Chair of the Sustainability Early Careers Board.  I’m been lucky in that my employer has generally been supportive of time being spent on IFoA initiatives.

What would your advice be to actuarial professionals who are interested in getting more involved with sustainability?

I’d say that anyone interested in this area should just go for it! This is a growing area and having relevant skills will become increasingly valuable to employers going forward. There’s also no better feeling than knowing the work you do is helping to fight one of our world’s biggest challenges.

My experience of volunteering for the profession, is that it’s a great way to learn more about climate and sustainability topics, and opens up opportunities elsewhere. I’m very lucky to have had the experiences, particularly my HM Treasury secondment, but none of these would have happened if I hadn’t initially put myself forward to get involved and build my skills through sustainability initiatives at GAD and with the IFoA.

Do you have any advice on how to engage employers in sustainability issues and supporting actuarial professionals to bring a focus on sustainability to their roles?

Climate change and sustainability bring risks to businesses (for example if we are not appropriately allowing for climate change in advice), but also offers opportunities through the increasing amount of advice and analysis that will be needed in this area.

My advice would be to have discussions internally, and ask the question about what your employer will support. If you show energy and enthusiasm – and are prepared to put in the work yourself to make things happen – you are much more likely to be successful in securing employer support.

If you’re interested in finding out more about sustainability at the IFoA you can visit our Sustainability hub.

You can also find out more about Sara’s experience at COP26.