GLOBE VIPs (Very Impactful People): Robyn Seetal
Over the past 30 years, GLOBE Series events have brought together a community of 170,000 change–makers, executives, innovators, dreamers, government leaders, inventors, thinkers, investors and youth. To celebrate our 30th anniversary, we’ve invited a few of those Very Impactful People to share their stories with us.
When Robyn Seetal was studying business at the University of Calgary, she felt what she was learning was out of alignment with her values—until she became involved with student clubs focused on sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Inspired by the idea that businesses can be both profitable and purposeful, Ms. Seetal went on to earn a CPA and advise companies on sustainability, first as a consultant at Deloitte and now as an independent consultant and facilitator.
She is also the co-founder of Local Investing YYC, an investment cooperative that supports Calgary entrepreneurs with a triple bottom line, and the Mindful Scholar, a tech company that develops mindfulness training for children. As the Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shaper Community’s Climate and Environment Steering Committee, Ms. Seetal is leading an effort that aims to mobilize one million people to influence policy and drive action to safeguard our planet by 2021.
We spoke with Ms. Seetal to learn more about her vision for the future and what she’s doing to manifest it.
What sustainability goal are you focused on over the next five to 10 years and how will you accomplish it?
There are a couple of goals I’m focused on through the work I’m doing with Global Shapers, which is a community of young professionals convened by the World Economic Forum to drive positive change in more than 400 cities across the world. Each city convenes a group called a ‘hub’ that focuses on three impact areas, one of which is climate and environment. One of the goals in this impact area is to mobilize at least one million people around climate action and nature conservation by 2021. We’re also looking into ways we can support the existing work being done to conserve 30 per cent of nature by 2030. We want to help create the equivalent of the Paris Agreement for biodiversity and nature conservation at the 2020 UN Biodiversity Conference in China.
I would also love to develop a sustainability network for Certified Public Accountants across Canada to help engage the profession on incorporating sustainability principles into business. Ideally, anyone in a position of power should be a sustainability leader. That should be the status quo. I want the word ‘sustainability’ to become a non-existent term because it should be the default way we think and do things. For example, when making decisions we will consider our impacts and dependencies on all types of capital including natural capital or nature’s assets and social capital.
Finally, I want to help push the natural capital agenda forward in Canada. Canada is blessed with many of the world’s natural resources when it comes to freshwater and forests. Canada should take a leadership role in managing and protecting them. I’m working with a few partners across Canada on an initiative right now to see if we can get more organized across the country on this.
Those are exciting goals. The IPCC report says that we need to significantly reduce our emissions to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. If we got everything right, what would 2030 look like? What would we need to do to reach that goal?
For everyone to be a sustainability leader, first and foremost. Everyone needs to play their part and play it bravely. The government, businesses and people in positions of power need courage to make hard, tough decisions that counter the status quo.
I’m also thinking about Calgary and what role oil and gas companies need to play in the transition. By 2030, our energy sector would not only need a clear plan on how to transition and evolve their business for a low–carbon economy, they will need to be well on their way down that path. That doesn’t only mean reducing the carbon intensity of a barrel of oil, but also transforming the business model to meet energy demands with low-carbon solutions.
To be successful, there’d also be a lot more electric vehicles out there and greater regulatory policies to support the green electrification of our economy. The best innovation happens when you have known constraints. We need policies, and political certainty of those policies, in place to make sure that we reach our targets, and to allow for businesses to innovate.
What challenge did you think couldn’t be overcome but was?
The Paris Agreement. I remember going to our clients when it came out to hear what their reactions were. It boosted the level of interest and attention that climate change received in the C-suite. It made people feel like climate change was real, that it wasn’t just a trend. Over the 10 years prior to that, it was an issue people would focus on when they were doing well, but not when the economy was down. The Paris Agreement gave the environment a permanent place on the corporate agenda.
In addition to your work as a corporate sustainability consultant, you’ve co-founded a mindfulness app for children. Do you see a connection between mindfulness and climate action?
One hundred per cent. It’s all connected. To tackle climate change, we need a global paradigm shift. Practicing mindfulness is one way to create it.
There’s a lot of uncertainty around what our environment’s going to be like, what our economy’s going to be like and the changes that we need to see in the next 10 to 15 years. Kids today need the skillset to build a more resilient society. If you have a society where people have a sense of self awareness, as well as an understanding of how they are connected to those around them, communities will be stronger and more resilient. People will make decisions that take the implications for their community into consideration.
You’ve been involved with GLOBE through the Leading Change Forum and the GLOBE Forum since 2011. Describe your first experience at the GLOBE Forum. What was that like?
My first experience was when I was in university. It was energizing. I saw that many organizations and businesses cared about sustainability and were doing amazing things in this space. It reassured me that I was in the right place in terms of my career ambitions. I felt like I’d found my tribe. I met a bunch of passionate folks from various parts of Canada and I still keep in touch with some of them to this day.
What made you keep coming back?
It became the event that you go to every two years to refuel and reconnect with people. Also, it’s always so hard to decide what sessions to go to. There are so many interesting and cool things being developed in this space and it’s exciting to learn about them.
That’s great. With so much negativity in the news, how do you stay positive, inspired and hopeful?
It’s hard, but attending events like GLOBE helps. Hearing about the various initiatives people are dedicated to and working towards is inspiring. It helps re-energize you and creates hope. In addition, I’m doing the only thing I feel right doing. We could all be screwed in 10 years—there could be catastrophic global warming and who knows the full impact of what may happen. But when I sit back and think about what I want to do with the time that I have, I feel like I’m doing exactly what I am meant to be.