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Greening of financial markets driving rise in study of sustainability

Smurfit school MSc covers renewable energy and environmental finance in a unique way

The rapid greening of financial markets has created an urgent need for people with an understanding of the application of sustainability factors to finance theory. And the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School MSc in Renewable Energy and Environmental Finance is the only programme in the world today which offers in-depth coverage of environmental and impact finance along with green data science.

The course, which is available in one-year full-time and two-year part-time formats, is aimed at graduates with a background in a number of different fields including business, economics, finance, engineering, mathematics, environmental science and physics, who are keen to pursue a career in the growing number of organisations focused on the sustainable business and finance industry.

“Sustainable finance is a hot topic globally,” says course director Prof Andreas Hoepner. “We have more employers looking at the programme than we have students completing the course.”

The course was redesigned some years ago to reflect the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, he explains. “The course should appeal to anyone with an interest in finance for the purpose of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. It’s about finance to save the planet.”


Investment gap

And that financial need is immense. It is estimated that achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 will require investments of between $5 trillion (€4.3 trillion) and $7 trillion annually across both the public and private sectors. That will leave an approximate $2.5 trillion investment gap every year in the developing world. That is a significant challenge but also an opportunity for policymakers, investors and businesses alike.

According to Hoepner, the course is for students who are passionate about the field of finance and want to find a programme that has purpose within the subject matter. Students will learn about climate change and future impacts, sustainability options and transforming society practically with relevant technical skills in environmental finance and renewable energy.

Among the more innovative elements of the programme is the module on green data science, which provides students with a comprehensive understanding of how data science can be used to assess the environmental performance of companies.

The module introduces students to the data value chains underpinning sustainable finance and business decision-making to the statistical techniques for modelling the impacts and progress towards the SDGs and to data-driven approaches to identifying greenwashing in environmental reporting. The module also critically reviews whether and how new financial technologies such as AI or blockchain may be used to solving sustainable development issues.

Bohemians FC striker Georgie Kelly has just commenced his second year on the part-time programme. “It’s been great so far,” he says. “I had done a B Comm in UCD. That’s a very broad degree and covers a lot of areas so I decided to take a year out to figure out what I wanted to do and played professional football with Dundalk FC. I used that year to figure out what route I wanted to go down. I decided on finance and the MSc in Renewable Energy and Environmental Finance ticked a lot of boxes for me. Smurfit is recognised for its finance courses and the renewable energy and environment areas are very topical. It was a perfect fit for me.”

He found the relevance of the course to current events very appealing. “It’s a really topical programme. Just look at what’s happening at the moment in terms of energy prices and the renewable investments in the budget earlier this month.”

Course structure

The structure of the course was also important. “The way Andreas Hoepner has laid the whole thing out is excellent,” says Kelly. “A lot of great lecturers come in from outside to speak about different aspects of green investing and so on.”

And there have already been a few standout modules for him. “I’m only halfway through the course but the green data science module was fascinating.”

Looking ahead, he believes the qualification will open up a range of career opportunities. “The potential for growth in the sustainable finance industry in this country five to 10 years down the road is huge,” he says.

But he will not be taking up one of those opportunities just yet. “Football is going okay for me at the moment, and I will continue playing. The masters covers a lot of things like ESG, project financing, investing and so on. I will play on for a few years professionally and do a few internships while I figure out which area I want to go into.”

Applications are already open for the next programme, which begins in September 2022, according to Hoepner. “We don’t give a guarantee that graduates will become a football star afterwards but great career opportunities do await them,” he adds.

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times