Q&A: Talking purpose + sustainable finance with Barbara Spiegel – Director, Quantis Zurich

The Quantis Zurich team is growing and thriving under the leadership of Barbara Spiegel since she took over the helm back in November 2018. We sat down with Barbara to discuss purpose, sustainable finance, and the state of sustainable business in Zurich.

Quantis: Barbara, Quantis is fortunate to have you leading our Zurich team since the Fall of  2018. Let’s start with a question about purpose. What drives you? What gets you up in the morning?

Barbara Spiegel (BS): As a rock-climber and backcountry skier, I experience the impact of climate change every time I’m on the mountain. My personal joy is deeply connected to nature, and I’m invested in trying to keep things as they have been. I’m also a mother, and I feel a moral responsibility toward my kids to help shape their world — a world in which they can not only enjoy nature intact, but also aren’t plagued by geopolitical challenges from, for instance, water scarcity. Quantis provides the platform to help shape this world for the generations that follow.

Barbara Spiegel sustainable finance

“Quantis’ collective expertise allows us to convene large players and share our knowledge where it’s most needed — not only within a single company, but especially through multi-stakeholder initiatives that catalyze systemic change”

We are at a moment in history where it’s critical to take big and bold actions in a collaborative manner to transform the system. The reason I’m excited to lead a Quantis team in particular is that Quantis’ collective expertise allows us to convene large players and share our knowledge where it’s most needed — not only within a single company, but especially through multi-stakeholder initiatives that catalyze systemic change, such as the Sustainable Packaging Initiative for CosmEtics, the Plastic Leak Project and the Accounting Natural Climate Solutions Guidance.

Q: Sustainability is evolving rapidly around the world. What are the current trends in Zurich and in Switzerland more broadly? And what unique value does Quantis bring to the market?

BS: Switzerland is one of the most environmentally-aware countries — and also one of the wealthiest. Many Swiss companies have sustainability ambitions but may not have a clear vision of how to start. Quantis is uniquely positioned to guide companies all along their sustainability journey with a science-based, metrics-driven approach. We not only have the scientific and technical expertise to run comprehensive life cycle assessments, we also help convert these results into the building blocks for robust environmental strategies, co-create tools to implement action plans, and develop credible sustainability communications. In Switzerland, there is no other company of our size that can perform this array of services across any industry.

Sustainable finance is also a rapidly growing space here. Many assets are managed out of Switzerland, and some of the world’s largest banks and insurance companies are in or near Zurich. Switzerland used to be at the forefront of sustainable finance. More recently, it has tended to defer to the European Union. I am hopeful that Switzerland can become that leader once more.

Q: You have extensive experience in the sustainable finance space, first with Zurich Insurance Group then with WWF Switzerland. What do you see as the current challenges and opportunities?

BS: Data transparency is the biggest challenge facing this industry. Investors need access to reliable environmental data for decision-making. Investors need access to reliable environmental data for decision-making. Yet, the carbon data currently available to investors to assess an investment’s carbon intensity and future scenarios often includes only emissions from a company’s direct operations (scopes 1 and 2). Value chain emissions (scope 3), which frequently make up the largest portion of a company’s footprint, are often omitted. Making choices based on incomplete data can have a massive impact. Quantis developed the Combi3 methodology to bring much-needed clarity and transparency to this evaluation process.

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We’ve also developed an investment evaluation methodology that goes beyond carbon to look at a holistic environmental metric for investors through the NEC Initiative. And if an investor chooses impact investment through green bonds, Quantis provides a science-based green bond impact calculator to give investors a realistic view of its impact.

Q: What are other emerging needs for companies in your region? How can Quantis support these?

BS: The fashion industry is stepping up its sustainability ambitions rapidly. As the founder of the WALDB (World Apparel & Footwear Life Cycle Assessment Database), Quantis has compiled one of the most comprehensive textile-related sustainability databases in the world, with more than 550 datasets. The next phase of WALDB will bring critical transparency across the apparel and footwear value chain.

Quantis is also uniquely positioned to help Swiss food, pulp and paper, as well as other agricultural companies account for and reduce GHG emissions related to land, agriculture, soils, and forests. As a growing number of companies amp up their climate strategies, the Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions Guidance is becoming a go-to resource to shape emissions reduction plans, and the geoFootprint project will help track progress on farm-level sustainability efforts through geospatial data.

Q: There are many opportunities to further Quantis’ mission to guide companies as they seek to become sustainable businesses. What is your key priority as director of Quantis Zurich?

BS: Before entering the field of sustainability, I worked at the intersection of business strategy, operating models and organizational transformation. I understand how decisions are made at the C-suite level, what a company strives for, and how business goals are set. My priority now is to be a bridge, an interpreter, between our scientists and corporate sustainability managers, and company executives. It’s impossible to run a sustainability strategy separate from a business strategy. Our sustainability strategists can help ensure real integration of sustainability into business strategy by creating a vision, setting science-based targets, incentivizing performance objectives, employee engagement and cost/benefit analyses.

Q: You’ve said that you are looking forward to growing the team to keep up with the market demand. What types of talent/skills will you be on the lookout for?

(BS): The Zurich team has a unique mix of skills in environmental engineering, environmental science, technology, and strategy. As we grow, we’re on the lookout for experienced industry professionals with backgrounds in sustainability strategy, strategy consulting, and governance. We’re also recruiting talent that have worked at the intersection of information technology and environmental science.

Ready to take the next step on your sustainability journey? Reach out to Barbara to explore how robust metrics and science-based approach can guide your company’s transformation.

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