Sarah Roberts

Karianne is Head of SI Portfolio Integration at UBS Asset Management. Prior to joining UBS, she worked for Unilever’s largest pension plans on sustainable investment policies and implementation. She holds a master’s degree in Investment Management from Bayes Business School in London, a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, the Investment Management Certificate from CFA Institute and a Naturopathic Nutrition Certificate from the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London.

Photo of Karianne Lancee

Tell us about your background, how you got interested in sustainability?

My background is in investment management, and, by chance, I moved into sustainable investing. Early on in my career, I was working with Unilever’s pension investments team on strategic asset allocation for the pension funds. At the time, Unilever already had a sustainable ethos, but they didn’t yet have a global sustainability investment strategy for their pension plans. I had an interest in sustainability, and they asked me to develop and implement such a strategy. It was a great opportunity—we created sustainable investment policies, signed up to the UN PRI and, among others, developed a private markets impact fund for the pension plans.

Personally, I’ve always been interested in the “S” side of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) aspects and previously studied nutrition. I’m always looking for ways to optimize my health and wellbeing. Sleep, exercise, play, and nutrition are all important, not just for disease prevention but holistic wellbeing.

It’s about thriving not just surviving.

How does your role at UBS create impact in terms of moving sustainability forward?

In the SI Portfolio Integration team, we focus on ESG integration, research, implementing measures to reduce portfolios’ greenhouse gas emissions, and impact investing. We work closely with investment teams to bring sustainability insights into the investment process. Our research focuses on issuers, sectors, and themes, and aims to bring new insights either on the risk or opportunity side relevant to specific investment portfolios—ultimately aiming to better serve our clients.  

What do you think is an under-discussed aspect of sustainability that needs more exposure? What are the challenges?

A lot of discussions around sustainability are very theoretical. Sustainability is ultimately about real-world impact. It’s not just about the functionality of the markets, the economy, and politics. It’s about improving outcomes for people and the planet.

The problem is the lack of data and complexity in measuring the real impact of many of these issues. For example, electric vehicles—how do you measure all the pros and cons from a sustainability perspective, thinking about both environmental and social impacts? And can you even start thinking about weighing them off against each other? Many people think that using a takeaway paper cup for their coffee is far less environmentally friendly than bringing their own flask, but is it? What about the water, dishwasher tablet and electricity used by your dishwasher to clean the flask? What if you re-used your paper cup all day and recycled it after you finished using it; which is more environmentally friendly?

A lot of people are narrowly self-interested and too focused on the short term. For example, at COP 28 we saw conflicting positions between promises for the future and today’s reality. It’s a systemic problem that’s linked to things like the tenure of leaders (often short term), conflicting interests, and a focus on increasing GDP at all costs. We need to deal with these obstacles first. It’s also about a south versus north and developed versus non-developed divide. We see funds being set up to aid developing countries with their phase out of fossil fuels, which is positive, but we also see countries rejecting a short-term phase out plan. As we move forward, we need to focus on the concept of the impact economy.

What are some of the biggest investment opportunities that are currently emerging?

Clients tell us they want options across all asset classes to invest sustainably. Opportunities will come out of the transition—the transition to net zero, the transition to an impact economy. That’s a trend that’s gaining momentum and likely here to stay.

Are you hopeful that we can meet climate change?

The science is strong and there’s a lot of clarity on why we need to move towards net zero. However, it’s the question of how we’re going to get there that worries me. Scientists at COP 28 have said that realistically, we’re looking at a rise of 2.4 degrees Celsius. Is that fair for future generations? A great many people would be willing to give up some level of comfort so that future generations can have access to what we have today. Unlimited access to heating, water, and a car for short journeys, have all made people too comfortable and therefore disinterested in changing behavior. Heat can be necessary, but we don’t need to heat all day. Luxury has become commonplace in certain parts of the world. While in other areas, we already see the consequences of “overconsumption”. You need to think, will people in 50 years be able to take a warm bath filled with clean water that came out of your tab for practically “free”?

Are you involved in sustainability outside of work and if so, how?

I’m quite focused on the resilience aspect of life and feel strongly that we need to boost it again.

Complacency, disengagement, and comfort make us weaker as a species. I take cold baths every morning to strengthen my immune system, build resilience, and know that I am ok even if it feels uncomfortable.. I try to teach resilience to my children too. I don’t want them to get too comfortable.

On the environmental side, I’m an avid cyclist commuting to most places by bike and try in my everyday life to reduce heat use, food waste, and car journeys. Everyone can make a difference through small changes.

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