Former chief sustainability officer of the Monetary Authority of Singapore Darian McBain has launched her own business focused on offering sustainability advisory services in the city-state.
The entity, called Outsourced Chief Sustainability Officer Asia (OCSO Asia), will offer sustainability consulting and strategic advisory services from experienced chief sustainability officers.
The expectation is that this will help to address the shortage of senior and experienced CSOs focused on the Asia-Pacific region, as well as assist organisations in meeting increasing sustainability demands.
“When I left MAS, I could see there was demand for a lot more sustainability advice, but there is a lack of supply. There are not enough people trained and experienced in ESG,” McBain, CEO of OCSO Asia, told AsianInvestor.
McBain joined MAS in October 2021, when the central bank also created a sustainability group.
The group coordinated MAS’s green finance and sustainability agenda, including identifying strategic green finance collaborators and reducing MAS’s carbon and environmental footprint, among other goals.
McBain, who is based in Singapore, left the central bank at the end of December 2022.
With more than 20 years of experience in sustainability roles in various sectors, she is also a United Nations SDG Pioneer for the environmental initiatives she spearheaded.
McBain believes the region offers growing potential for sustainability-related offerings.
“There is a lot of opportunity to participate in thought leadership and building up networks in this region because we don’t have a lot of people who’ve been trained and worked in this industry for two or three decades,” she said.
Extending the concept of an outsourced chief investment officer — which refers to outsourcing investment management — McBain decided on the model of the outsourced chief sustainability officer.
“OCSO hopes to fractionalise time to bring the benefit of experience in senior sustainability advisory services to a broader range of institutions. I also want to marry that concept to the technology companies I have worked with,” she said.
The goal is to get more companies in the region to look at sustainability as part of broader business continuity and strategic plans.
“Sustainability is often a change management process,” she said. “At this stage, many organisations still need a chief sustainability officer or someone who can lead on sustainability because these people bring particular skill sets and a knowledge base.”
McBain said she is already in conversations with companies that have existing operations in Europe or the US and are looking to expand in Asia, and want to have a better understanding of the sustainability requirements in the region.
“These are companies that want some help with their sustainability screening or advice on their investments,” she added.
A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT
McBain’s longstanding experience in sustainability, along with her experience at MAS, gives her deep insight into how Singapore operates as a regional sustainability hub, and how far along central banks are in their sustainability journey.
“There are some great working groups doing some work, and one lesson I would take away is that many different countries are working on similar goals such as moving towards net zero and managing climate risks, even though their approach may differ,” she said.
During her time at MAS, she helped with several sustainability initiatives. Among those was Project Greenprint, which launched in November 2021.
It looked at bringing together different sources of ESG data and what the different platforms were that could help with data access and aggregation.
The ESG Impact Hub, announced in October 2022, was also set up as part of Project Greenprint. “It encouraged collaboration across the financial sector, fintechs, the real economy and non-government organisations, which were groups that hadn’t been brought together before,” McBain said.
The central bank also teamed up with Google Cloud in July 2022 to launch the Point Carbon Zero Programme to scale up climate fintech solutions in the region.
All of these initiatives highlight that ESG solutions require input from a variety of stakeholders, and not just from the financial sector, McBain said.
As the importance of sustainability grows, so does the demand for ESG data, along with the demand for comparability in reporting requirements.
Unlike financial reporting, where there are internationally accepted standards, there is no internationally comparable system for sustainability reporting.
The International Sustainability Standards Board is attempting to address this gap by creating a global baseline of sustainability-related disclosure standards.
The board in February agreed that initial IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards, S1 and S2, will become effective in January 2024.
Data challenges have been repeatedly flagged by asset owners as a stumbling block in reporting on sustainability or ESG.
Some, like Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah, have called for improvements in third-party ESG ratings, while others such as AustralianSuper are moving ahead with internal efforts to ramp up ESG data collection.