“I never thought I’d be here,” said Dr. Rodney Irwin in a 2014 conversation at the Yale School of Management. He was one of two people on a panel, discussing sustainability metrics and business.
An economist and accountant by training, Dr. Irwin started his career at Ernst & Young, developing expertise in risk management during his dozen years in the private sector. But he had an enduring interest in business ethics—a field in which he holds a doctorate—and in October of 2012 he left his post at one of Europe’s largest shipping and logistics companies to become Managing Director of Redefining Value and Education at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Peter Bakker, President and CEO at WBCSD often states that, “Accountants will save the world.” Dr. Irwin is doing his best.
WBCSD is a global, CEO-led organization of over 200 leading businesses working together to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world. The organization’s goal is to help make companies more successful and sustainable by focusing on the maximum positive impact for shareholders, the environment and societies.
“Across the globe, business have learned—sometimes at their cost—that they cannot be successful in societies that fail,” Dr. Irwin said. “As such, governments and other stakeholders are increasing the pressure for corporate transparency. Many companies are beginning to grapple with these issues, and we aim to help with that.”
As of January this year, Dr. Irwin will be an Executive Fellow with the Yale Center for Business and the Environment. In this role, he will collaborate with academics and students from across Yale to produce high-quality research on the flow of capital into sustainability-oriented projects and sustainable companies —a role for which he’s well equipped. Much of this work will be through the Yale Initiative on Sustainable Finance, a program recently launched between Yale and WBCSD.
Over the past six years at the WBCSD, Dr. Irwin has overseen a portfolio of projects that advance the measurement and valuation of externalities; these are designed to take sustainable development into the core reporting commitments of a business. He has also led projects in risk management, integrated and mandatory reporting and is developing education programs designed for senior finance staff.
Outside of the WBCSD, he sits on a number of boards and has been a guest lecturer at Yale, Cambridge University, University of Geneva, and Rotterdam and Lancaster Schools of Management.
“The partnership between WBCSD and Yale, now three years old, has brought important benefits to both organizations as well as exciting opportunities for companies and students alike,” said Dr. Irwin. “This appointment strengthens our collaboration so that we can both continue to work towards our goals of building a better world and a more informed global citizenry.”