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Nature Positive Podcast: Dr Snjólaug Ólafsdóttir on opportunities, challenges and corporate preparedness

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The Nature Positive Podcast recently welcomed Dr Snjólaug Ólafsdóttir, Head of Climate Change and Sustainability Services for Ernst & Young (EY) Iceland, where she brought her experience and knowledge with new sustainability reporting frameworks.

An environmental passion became an academic calling early on for Ólafsdóttir, eventually yielding a degree in Chemistry and later a Ph.D. in Engineering. After founding her own consulting firm, Andrymi Sustainability Centre, she now heads EY’s CCaSS (Climate Change and Sustainability Services), where she helps shape baselines, goals, and action plans. 

Ólafsdóttir shares her perspective on where companies should start and what they should prioritize when stepping into sustainability acronyms - acknowledging that it can be disorienting and intimidating. 

She gives her input into how companies can approach new reporting schemes such as the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), and Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD).

Companies Should Not Dwell in Spreadsheets

At the center of a global sustainability transformation are executives, the bottom line, and their spreadsheets. Ólafsdóttir encourages leadership to “not get lost in the excel spreadsheets” and to instead “look to the bigger picture and the opportunities that present themselves there.” 

From a vantage point of having been intimately involved in both the science and business behind sustainability, she insists, “we are all speaking the same language and want the same things.” Impressing the importance of the synergy between financial growth and the health of the global environment, Ólafsdóttir insists that one can not exist to its fullest without the other.

Are Corporations Prepared?

Acknowledging that in the past three to five years, executives have awakened to the urgency of climate change and nature’s degradation, Ólafsdóttir sees a tidal change in the framework of corporate leadership with more sustainability experts on boards and teams.

The sustainability leader insists that corporations should not be intimidated by the job of keeping up with new regulatory frameworks for reporting, like the EU’s CSRD. Instead, she recommends building on existing knowledge gathered and using previous work to meet new reporting guidelines, followed by a gap analysis to target areas of weakness.

Of utmost importance is taking a few steps back to “see the actions that may not be measurable by a spreadsheet,” citing the implementation of sustainability teams whose knowledge is interconnected and collaborative with other teams across the value chain.

Where Opportunity Outweighs Challenges

Ólafsdóttir sees one of the major barriers to creating a groundswell of change in a company's ability to measure material risk against opportunity - the latter of which is infinite if an organization is prepared with strategy, governance, and scenario planning. 

To make the most of opportunities available within fields such as renewable energy, Ólafsdóttir recommends implementing a sustainability framework that will attract future talent and, in the interim, investing in training and education for current teams so that the baseline and goals are understood across departments. 

Ólafsdóttir insists that talented people thrive in a creative space that allows for innovative solutions when given the tools and knowledge to do so. 

Don’t Do This For Future Generations

While we have previously relied on companies and individuals to be driven towards sustainability initiatives by benevolence towards future generations, Ólafsdóttir takes a different approach to give a voice to the urgency of innovation and change. 

When asked what words of motivation she gives to teams that she collaborates with, she says, “I tell them not do this for your children and your children’s children, do this for yourself and the people who are already here. This is the pace we need to work at.”

Listen to the full episode now on Spotify!

Nature Positive
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