Centre for Finance and Development
14 October 2021

Teaching ESG, not as easy as ABC

Interview of some of the professors in Geneva shaking up the classroom, including Nathan Sussman (CFD) and Rajna Gibson Brandon(GFRI).

More business schools and higher education institutions are integrating sustainable finance into their curricula. However, a lack of standardisation in a rapidly evolving sector is just one of the challenges that make it difficult to teach.

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Kasmira Jefford, Editor in Chief at Geneva Solutions, interviewed some of the professors in Geneva shaking up the classroom, including Nathan Sussman, Director of the Centre for Finance and Development, and Rajna Gibson Brandon, Deputy Director of UNIGE’s Geneva Finance Research Institute (GFRI).

Sustainable finance as an area of research

"According to Professor Rajna Gibson Brandon, "banks, and the industry as a whole, are starting to look for more specialists with ESG training” and "one area that has rapidly evolved over the last five years is research dedicated to sustainable finance". “Very early on we tried to have a reflection on what good finance can do for society because of course, after the subprime crisis, finance and the banking industry had been shaken and there was a lot of bad connotation around it,” she tells Geneva Solutions."

"Gibson argues that the paradigms that once characterised traditional finance – that people are selfish and only motivated by profit  – are gradually shifting to a new set of principles that recognise that people can be altruistic and that they want to do well. “Education is being driven by the trend we have seen in the financial services sector over the last 10 years – this notion of doing well by doing good – and by the growing awareness now of course, of climate change risks,” Gibson adds."

Thinking like an economist

"ESG or sustainability issues that were once allotted to specialist finance courses have also been gaining broader academic attention. In September, the Graduate Institute introduced for the first time a track in sustainable finance and development within its international economics master’s programme. The university also plans to launch a complete master in sustainable finance and economics next year.

"Professor Nathan Sussman, program director, argues that economics training offers a different and important approach to issues such as social responsibility, inclusion, and how to assess the impact of sustainable investments.  “It's applying these problem-solving skills to a different problem,” he told Geneva Solutions. He says professors are having to “retool themselves” to teach on issues that have never previously been researched, and for which little literature exists. The two new sustainable finance courses are something of an experiment, given that there was no precedent for them. However, the methods remain the same. “We're not rewriting economics. For the most part, we’re taking the same methods and applying them to sustainable finance”.

Finding a common language

"Responsible investing, climate finance, impact investing, sustainable finance, ESG investing; the definition of sustainable finance remains elusive – as are the standards for companies disclosing their sustainability. The uncertainty, and lack of standardisation also overshadows the education sector,  concludes Gibson. Until we all speak a common language – and even between academia and the professional sector it is very different –  it's going to be challenging to set firm grounds on the education that we provide to the students.”

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