Spotlight Series: Q&A with Navneet Bassan, Pensions, Risk & Compliance Manager

We caught up with Navneet, qualified solicitor currently working at Ernst & Young in the Pensions, Risk and Compliance team about the rise in importance of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance).

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I am Asian British born in the UK. I am a qualified solicitor.

Can you tell me about your career so far? What was the catalyst for you to take on ESG Pensions at EY?

I worked in a few City law firms in the early days, worked at PwC and also Thomson Reuters, I’ve been working at one of the Big 4 accountancy firms (EY) for the last five years. I no longer work in the capacity of a solicitor, since having children, I took a side step and now work in the Pensions HR Team at EY.

The UK has an investment market of roughly £8 trillion with UK pensions assets c.£3 trillion, so as a very rough estimate pensions assets are a third of investable assets. Given this proportion, switching pension investment to back the sustainability agenda is a strong lever to deliver real change and a mechanism to fund green growth. In line with the EY global commitment to tackling the climate change crisis, EY made recent changes to the investment strategy of its UK staff pension plan and as part of this introduced the EY Sustainable Fund. At present 10% of the default investment strategy is invested in the EY Sustainable Fund, a “green” fund that supports sustainable causes. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, this is only the beginning and EY is doing much more to ensure it invests its pension contributions into companies that are focused on reducing environmental impact and delivering sustainability. Watch this space!

What does your overall role at EY involve and how are you finding working on Sustainability compared to your other work?

I am the Risk & Compliance Manager for the EY in-house pensions team, so my day-to-day role involves ensuring EY remains compliant with all legal and regulatory requirements in relation to its pension arrangements within UK&I. However, I’ve recently become involved in a new cross-firm sustainability initiative created to focus on “getting our house in order” which is an aspect of EY’s Global Sustainability Strategy. So whilst EY is not only tackling sustainability in relation to services provided to external clients, it is also doing so with its own internal operations.

From a personal experience I did actually start to notice many small changes happening in our office pre-covid… Disposable cups within all EY offices were replaced with reusable cups, they ceased producing branded EY carrier bags and even dish sponges were removed from communal kitchen areas to reduce plastic microfibres in wastewater. It’s such an exciting area to be involved in at present and is a definite change from my usual day role!

Being South Asian, did you face any pressure from family, friends or society at large to choose the career path you did? Would you have done anything differently if given the opportunity again?

I didn’t feel direct pressure from my family, but I think it was the norm when I was growing up to either go for medicine, accountancy or law – so I just went for the last one given I loved English and History at School! If I had an opportunity to choose another career when growing up it would probably be around nutrition and diet but that wasn’t a well-publicised career path back in the day!

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

The biggest change I’ve made was a few years ago in changing from a petrol vehicle to a fully electric one. It’s been the best decision made in terms of being more “green” and definitely cost efficient, the only challenge has been in planning the charging points for longer journeys!

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I don’t believe there is any form of stigma, I think it is more of a lack of understanding and knowledge of the climate crisis. For me, it really hit home when I attended a work-related conference where Lewis Pugh presented and spoke about his experiences of climate change, especially when he first swam in the waters of Antarctica compared to more recent times. He’s a very inspiring speaker and really hit the message home.

I believe more education and publicity is needed in this area and suggestions on what changes people can implement to make a difference.

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly. How can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

Everyone can take “baby steps” to make changes in their day to day lives. It doesn’t have to be costly, even just ensuring rubbish is sorted and recycled where possible or using reusable shopping bags even helps. In recent times vegan lifestyles and products have come more to the forefront, which has helped with promoting foods that have less impact on the environment, so I believe being carbon conscious is more accessible than previously. Even making a few changes can help the cause.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Really start making a difference now by becoming more sustainable in your day-to-day lives. When I was growing up, this wasn’t a “thing”, but now it has been brought to the forefront through the likes of many individuals and climate “influencers” trending on social media platforms (i.e. the Greta Thunberg effect). Going back to pensions, which is typically an area where apathy is a challenge particularly amongst the younger generations, recent research has shown that

Millennials are most likely to believe that a measurable ESG impact can make a difference and for their investments to reflect climate change concerns. Hopefully this will mean the younger generation are more likely to engage with their pension if they can see if has a positive impact on climate change.

Coming from a background in law and working in a major financial company, would you say a career in the environmental sector would be just as financially and economically viable and stable?

Yes I believe in this day and age, a career in the environmental sector can be just as rewarding financially as well as from a job satisfaction perspective. Many companies are jumping on the “sustainability wagon” and if you do a quick google search for jobs in the sustainability field you will see many listed. I believe the only challenge may be a lack of awareness of what is involved in these types of roles.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

Yes of course – when on holiday in Mauritius a few years ago, I found it quite alarming when we came across so much dead coral on the beaches. We also went on a glass-bottom boat excursion, where we could see first-hand all the dead coral. When you compare this to living and healthy coral which you view when watching David Attenborough programmes, the difference is shockingly stark. While there was still some fish there, it was abundantly clear to see how much climate change had impacted a large proportion of the coral reef surrounding this beautiful island.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Climate change has been brought to the forefront in recent times, taking one example of the Australian bushfires, which I believe impacted many when you could see the devastation caused. The next step now is to take action and remember that as an individual you can make an impact by starting to make changes yourself and also educating others. The best way to do this is to “speak the language” of each generation e.g. the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (Gen Y) and the Centennials (Gen Z). Generally most people switch off when I start talking about my line of work(!), however,

I have noticed that if you can find the right hooks to discuss sustainability within the context of pensions, I have been able to engage both my parents’ generation as well as my nieces and nephews. 

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Operations Director at Lightsource BP, Rumesh Chauhan

We caught up with Rumesh who has worked in the utilities sector for many years and recently transitioned to renewable energy

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am a British born Indian, with my parents coming over from India during the very late 60’s/early 70’s. 

I graduated with a degree in Chemistry at Leeds University and have built on this with my Lean Six Sigma qualifications. I am a very highly experienced Operations Executive/Director, with an extensive portfolio of skills and attributes which are demonstrated through leading very large multifunctional teams of professionals to new levels of success, in a variety of highly competitive business functions and fast-paced environments. My professional work background is heavily immersed in the utilities sector.

Can you tell me about your career so far and what inspired the shift towards the energy and renewables sector?

Following my graduation, I was fortunate enough to join the chemical sector to utilise my degree to full effect. It was during my first employment that I was given the opportunity to be involved in the design, build and operation of a “first” chemical and biological treatment facility, allowing chemical waste to be treated to the highest regulatory standards before being discharged into the river. This was the catalyst that shaped my career, moving across two Water companies, Yorkshire Water and then Severn Trent Water to deliver huge environmental improvements, with renewable energy playing a significant part. 

Utilising and harnessing waste from our homes and commercial businesses to produce green energy in the form of gas and electric through state of the art production facilities. My recent move to Lightsource BP moved my career into a new sector, 100% renewables driven through solar parks/farms, utilising the sun’s irradiance to produce green energy.

What does your role at BP involve and how are you working towards the net zero carbon target?

Lightsource and BP are a 50:50 joint venture, and my role sits in Lightsourebp (LSbp) which is one of the key pillars to help realise the huge ambition that BP has set, as part of its Net Zero strategy. The ambition is to be a very different kind of energy company by 2030, with a big scale up investment in low carbon and making headway on reducing emissions.

My role at LSbp is an O&M Director, where I am fully accountable to deliver the contractual and commercial outputs of solar farms across the UK landscape. As well as this, I’m establishing the benchmark of excellence across planning and scheduling work activities, Health and Safety, engineering and client relations, to then take onto the global scale.

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

Several big successes have been both personally as well as ones I have delivered as part of my role in companies I have worked for. This includes delivering a huge reduction in environmental pollutants such as ammonia in rivers, to mothballing carbon polluting incineration processes and facilitating the introduction of combined heat and power plants (which harness the gas produced from waste domestic and commercial entities to produce renewable energy). This fundamentally changed the UK landscape over the last few decades and paved the way for green energy processes, on which further optimisation continues today.

Other successes are across the water sector delivering outstanding water quality improvements for the Ministry of Defence contract.

My biggest personal success was the recognition through the Severn Trent’s company awards across various categories, however, to win “Leader of the Year 2018” was a big highlight in my career. More recently the reach out from LSbp to move my career there has been the best move I have made, a truly ambitious “Green” company focused on delivering sustainable energy for future generations to thrive on.

Learning for me continues and always will, to date include but not limited to the following:

Not to accept the norm. Six Sigma has taught me a huge amount about continuous improvements, making small incremental changes on a regular basis and not accepting the base standard

Stopping the knee jerking to point data, use data in the right way to make fast paced data driven interventions

People by far are the backbone to any company, creating and having the right beliefs and values brings success. I am a firm believer in creating the right environment for others to succeed in.

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take on a niche/unfamiliar job? Has it been challenging to switch?

I am very honoured to have such brilliant and supporting parents, family and friends that have always encouraged me to do what I feel right in terms of jobs I have taken on. The simple advice from my parents sits in my head today: “Study hard, work hard and you will see the fruits of your labour”. What I have achieved and the position I sit in today is simply down to that guidance.

At the same time when the opportunity has come along to broaden my knowledge in a different role or even a different industry, I have taken that leap of faith. I have learnt so much about transferable skills that one can take into so many sectors.

I am super grateful for the opportunities that came by me over the years, however I do feel that one must have the appetite and ambition to chase/follow up on such a dream that could be seen as niche or unfamiliar. 

The environment around us globally has and continues to change significantly and the concept of “Net Zero”, or increased sustainability is no longer in the background, a distant dream or tucked away in a cupboard, so to have been a part of this over so many years and now living and breathing this in my day job is just awesome.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable? 

My roles have allowed me in some cases to naturally come around to the idea that I/we need to become more sustainable to protect the earth for future generations. A lot more talking of these interventions has allowed simple concepts to be taken on board and to incorporate these into my /families daily life. From recycling at home, water conservation, deploying energy saving tips, going paperless, donating unused items and so on. Some of these have been far easier to adopt and bring into one’s lifestyle whilst others have been a personal and conscious decision, something you have to have the belief in, in terms of the “so what” for it to actually happen.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

My personal belief is somewhat two-fold. On one hand I believe it’s the environment in which we live in on a daily basis, not having the understanding of any/limited climate crisis (that is someone else’s problem to sort) and the other hand, have many communities in the South Asian culture truly paved their career paths to want to go make a difference on supporting/creating a greener world? In all honesty with discussions at a UK and global level on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, electric cars etc, there is a lot out there for us to take notice of. 

However this could be seen as eutopia so let’s bring it home to reality – yes there is an element of lack of understanding, is there a widespread understanding of what carbon actually is and what this means to the human race? What about the rush to get to zero carbon? How is this possible? What is my role in society? Lots of questions I would be asking to get underneath the stark fact that amongst our society this is not a burning topic, not one that excites all.

So how do we go change or even try to scratch the surface on something so topical yet so crucial on a global front.  It must start with “me”, having the interest and the urge to go seek “what is all this about?” My career paths have educated me on such issues and I have been part of some of the solutions which I have spoken to family and friends about, so they understand, and it goes on from there.

Now I have to turn the lens to the government, authorities and governing bodies in terms of how much are they or have they truly shouted about such issues, back into all communities, bringing to life what it actually means in terms of the carbon footprint and my role to reduce this, there is a lot to do here. There are huge networks, communication channels where we can establish this as the forefront of all conversations – making it real for people to see how these correlates in their daily lives.

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

My pure existence as a human being gives an output of carbon, whether this relates to eating, drinking, what means of transport I use, what waste is produced, how this is segregated for recycling, the list can go on. Government backed initiatives have been the catalyst for short term sign ups such as solar, home insulation etc. Water companies have pushed to get water conversation gizmos sent out to households free. However, the big producers of carbon require some big changes and to that, costly changes. 

My thinking is simply small steps to create a belief and culture that yes, I can and will make the difference. If the global population followed just the basics of reducing carbon, we could strive towards our goal. This alone will not be enough, in fact far from it, the sheer magnitude of the footprint we see today will take big bold moves, new energy solutions- wind, solar, hydrogen, changes to the way we live and so on.

Most importantly it must be accessible to us all in a simple usable way. Look at smart metering, controlling your entire home’s heating, lighting, turning on the coffee machine… all remotely via wonderful apps. Technology has transformed our lives, why can’t carbon reduction initiatives be the same?

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

We take the world for granted and there may be an ill perception that global problems don’t impact me directly, so what. My view is about creating the environment around you and I today, for future generations to want to live in. The actions of us today will be the landscape of the younger generations to live in tomorrow. It’s all about a lasting legacy. This cannot be hidden or excused from anyone, younger people must bring this to the forefront of their education, embark on those careers that will be fundamental in making wholesale changes driven by long term plans, such as the Government’s 10 point plan. Don’t hold this within, talk about it, do something about it amongst your family, friends and communities.

How do you feel about the UK government’s TCFD, 10 point climate change plan?

Exciting times and a big commitment, I suppose better late than never. We have seen several of the oil giants making huge commitments, Shell and of course BP, which will pave the way for lots of other industries to step up and be heard on their plans.

There isn’t much of a choice that you have to join the “green” race; if you don’t you will get left behind. Legislation and regulatory drivers will be key for organisations to commit to their part and must be applied with rigour and pace.

There will still be a huge amount of uncertainly on the government plans, it’s about having the confidence in the UK government to go deliver this with support from us all. Not just the financial investment required but the timescale to deliver wholesale landscape changes and the way you and I live a daily life will change. I am very encouraged and fully supportive of such a bold move, is it too late? Who knows, but the words from the PM defining this as a Green Industrial Revolution has to be the start of something special.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

I step back to those times in my life when my grandparents were alive. We all have a truly special bond and connection with our grandparents. For me it’s those seeds they planted in me at those times of challenge and uncertainty that today are the foundation and strong roots of who I am. The legacy continues with my parents providing that nourishment on a day to day basis.

The simple yet very effective advice they gave was “be a good human being”. The qualities of my grandparents and parents today are resembled through a few key words: “Respect, Trust, Selfless and Integrity” and it’s this what has deeply impacted me and will do for the rest of my life.

Connect with Rumesh on LinkedIn