Whether it’s through active participation in advisory groups, in-person events, sharing our work with their wider networks or helping us connect to industry experts, our constellation members are an integral part of Icebreaker One.

Aligned with our ethos of collaboration: ‘to go far, we go together’, they contribute to our mission of making data work harder to reach net zero. Now we want to highlight some of the important work they do for both people and the planet. 

In this conversation, I speak to Gerrit Sinderman, who has recently taken on the role of Executive Director at Green Digital Finance Alliance (GDFA). Our discussion looks into GDFA’s initiatives on developing novel business models and financing approaches for sustainable circular cities and helping the financial sector to integrate biodiversity risks for oceans into investment decisions.

Ross: Congratulations on moving into your new role as Executive Director at Green Digital Finance Alliance (GDFA), can you give an idea of how the role’s going and your background that led to this point? 

Gerrit: Thank you! I transitioned into the climate space around three years ago, after more than 20 years in Banking and Fintech. I was raised in an environmentally conscious household and having followed climate and environmental debate closely for a longer time, this felt like an overdue and relieving move. I had long wondered how I could leverage my financial sector and entrepreneurial experiences to be more impactful. There had been a few touch-points with environmental topics during my earlier career. For instance, as an equity analyst, I got the opportunity to initiate our bank’s renewable energy coverage. Or working for a Telco, I had investigated potential energy efficiency offerings for the retail customer segment. Over the years, my sustainability-related values and concerns started to influence the way I evaluated personal and professional choices.

The real shift started happening shortly after I had assumed the country manager role for a Fintech and Insurtech accelerator. At the same time, the Swiss government had announced its ambition to make sustainable finance a core pillar of the Swiss financial centre. It was here that things suddenly fell into place. We entered a collaboration with a US renewable energy accelerator and started recruiting Climate Fintechs in preparation for a fully dedicated Climate Fintech programme. At that time, team and corporate partners got less excited about the prospect of dedicating a significant share of our time to a climate-focused program. That was when I made the full-hearted decision to ‘change sides’ and shift from a fintech-focused entrepreneurial career to a climate-focused one, in the wider sustainable finance space.

My new responsibility of leading GDFA hasn’t been a sudden change but rather a slowly evolving and now formalised change. During my two years with GDFA, I led our foundation early on, ad interim, when my boss decided to leave a couple of months after I joined. When my new boss joined a few months later, I worked closely with her, jointly managing the operations of our organisation. And so, when my boss decided to transition into an advisory role for GDFA, I was relatively well prepared to continue the transformation of our organisation. Of course, on some matters, I still needed to craft, formulate and convey to our board my own vision and plan of approach.

Ross: Can you describe the kind of work that GDFA does? 

Gerrit: GDFA acts as a catalyst for green and blue digital finance innovations. We design and test the ways in which digital data and digitally enabled business models can facilitate the green transition of the financial sector. Equally, we explore how to support the financial sector and more effectively fund the mitigation of climate change. Thematically, we focus on how digital finance and data-driven business models can accelerate the development of sustainable circular cities and of a sustainable blue economy. We have worked globally over the last seven years, but currently have a strong focus on Europe and Southeast Asia.

Ross: Can you tell me more about your work on Oceans?

Gerrit: Leading a consortium with WWF, HUB Ocean and Copenhagen Business School, we investigated how ocean biodiversity risks could be made accessible and actionable to investors of the so-called blue economy in the Nordics. Prioritising industries according to their relevance in terms of investor and asset manager portfolio exposure and impact on ocean biodiversity, we chose the shipping industry as a first research object. We developed a prototype of a geospatial risk metric that leveraged the geolocation data of shipping assets (i.e. vessels), linking those to mapping data of marine protected areas, to determine the degree to which shipping companies were adhering to such protection areas. We also involved major ESG data providers to validate our work, and identify their needs to maximise chances of a broad industry adoption.

In the next phase of this research we will further deepen our work on the shipping industry, and expand to further blue economy industries, as well as intensify the engagement with ESG data providers and financial institutions. Beyond that, I would like to explore other ways we could accelerate investments in a sustainable blue economy, such as through blue digital bonds.

Ross: You participated in our Impact Investing & ESG advisory group last year, have you seen any recent developments in standards and regulations that might impact your business?

Gerrit: Less in standards and regulations themselves, more in the resulting challenges of the different stakeholders dealing with them. In the last few years, regulation has started catching up more and more with climate and nature-related matters. Intergovernmental agreements and commitments were followed by voluntary pledges that struggled to build the momentum required to tackle global human and economic challenges – the much quoted tragedy of horizons and tragedy of commons. The markets, however, have failed to address these challenges. Now, industries are being shaken by a still growing regulatory tsunami, and struggling to keep up with the pace of expanding obligations.

Businesses, for a long time, have been built with predominantly economic ambitions. Now they need to catch up on their accountability and responsibility towards society, as well as being re-designed, re-built and operated in a very different manner. Businesses will need to collaborate with different stakeholder groups and leverage technology-induced sustainability leaps. And they will need large amounts of funding to do this.

Our work in initiating and driving collaboration on digitally enabled green finance, across industries, disciplines and regions, will hopefully be an essential contribution to address these challenges in a scarily shortening time window.

Ross: What’s coming up in 2024 for GDFA?

Gerrit: In 2024, we will be concentrating our efforts on expanding and intensifying our work especially within our thematic focus on sustainable circular cities and the blue economy, always leveraging insights on data-driven digital financial solutions and business models in very different contexts. Furthermore, we will aim to expand some of our recent work, started in Europe, to Southeast Asia, building on strong and ambitious partners we have there.