In 2017, Eugenie Mathieu was a senior Greenpeace campaign strategist in New York, trying to stop ancient forests being chopped down to make toilet paper. A year later, she was back in her home city of London helping to run a natural capital investment fund at Aviva Investors, the asset manager.
This is by no means a conventional career path in the City of London. At least, it wasn’t.
As competition for green business experts grows, financial firms are snapping up staff from environmental non-profit groups at a pace — and price — that industry veterans say is striking.
“We’ve lost people to banks on what are without doubt for us insane salaries,” says Mark Campanale, founder of the London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative think-tank that studies the energy transition’s effect on capital markets.
He says at least 10 per cent of his 50-odd staff have gone to banks or fund managers in the past 12 months, a few on salaries of “well into six figures”, and one on £400,000.
The ShareAction non-profit that pushes financial firms to use their clout to tackle climate change is also watching staff leave for City jobs, though chief executive, Catherine Howarth, says it could have been worse.
“It’s more of a steady trickle than the flood of leavers I feared it might become,” she told me.
This is not just a European phenomenon. In the US, the BlackRock asset manager giant in 2021 hired a climate science expert from the World Wildlife Fund and the chief strategy officer from the Rocky Mountain Institute clean energy non-profit.
The traffic goes both ways. Howarth and Campanale have long hired senior finance executives keen for a change. Carbon Tracker has had two ex-heads of research from global banks and Campanale doubts they will be the last.
Still, the shift of climate campaigners to the financial sector is the more recent trend and the question is: does it matter?
Perhaps. ShareAction’s Howarth says her organisation now has allies spread across the big companies, regulators and government departments it hopes to influence.
What is clear is that, as climate change becomes a more pressing concern, the market for people who know their way around a carbon footprint is hot. Sustainability manager is the second fastest-growing job title in the UK, LinkedIn reported last month, up from seventh fastest this time last year. And globally, demand for green talent and skills has been outstripping supply.
The thirst is fierce in finance because of rising investor interest in environmental issues, plus a thicket of new rules to tackle greenwashing and climate risk.
Even private equity firms — many of which have been slow to make climate change a priority — are taking a closer interest in sustainability specialists.
That’s not just because of investor pressure to cut emissions, or green regulations facing companies that firms invest in, says Duncan Ramsay of the ECI private equity firm.
“You can get loans now for an organisation that will have cheaper rates if you’re hitting certain ESG targets, which will usually be around carbon intensity, so that puts a chunk of work on to the business.”
It’s all keeping green corporate job headhunters busy.
“We’ve quadrupled in size since Covid,” says Helen Pradas-Page of Acre, a recruitment firm that specialises in sustainability.
A hiring spike spurred by ESG rules, plus growing demand for more specialist knowledge in investment teams, means it is sometimes possible to include people from a non-profit background, she adds.
“The caveat is that when people move sectors in that way, they have to understand the pragmatism required to deliver a scalable investment strategy in a competitive market. Having solely activist aims won’t work.”
Business experience also matters. One person who left a non-profit for a City job told me having more than a decade of corporate experience was vital. “It really helped to have that on my CV because it gave people confidence I wasn’t a nutter tree-hugger.”
I doubt this trend is temporary. Regulators and investors may be driving demand for green expertise today, but tomorrow’s workforce is set to propel it much further.
Younger workers are already “climate quitting” for more environmentally friendly jobs, a KPMG survey of 6,000 UK workers showed last month.
“Plastics” was the one-word piece of career advice that the film The Graduate made famous in the 1960s. “Climate” is the term today.