Sustainable Financial Instruments Are Critical To Fund Transition: Katie McGinty

By Naina Gautam March 13, 2023

Johnson Controls is not just bringing innovations to India, but many cutting-edge innovations are also arising from its Centre of Excellence in India, says the vice president and chief sustainability and external relation officer at Johnson Controls

Sustainable Financial Instruments Are Critical To Fund Transition: Katie McGinty
Katie McGinty is the vice president and chief sustainability and external relation officer of Johnson Controls.

Katie McGinty has a 360° understanding of climate change policy and action. Presently working as the vice president and chief sustainability and external relation officer of Johnson Controls, a global sustainable buildings technology major, she is the first woman to have become the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She also served as Deputy Assistant to President Bill Clinton.  During her recent visit to attend TERI’s World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS), she spoke with Naina Gautam on how climate action is accelerating, India’s proactive role and climate innovations by Johnson Control. Edited Excerpts: 
How important was WSDS from a corporate point of view? 
From the corporate point of view, we abide by the truth that economy is a subsidiary of the environment. So, we need a thriving environment for us to be able to thrive economically. The coming together of thought leaders, government leaders and scientists in a gathering like the WSDS is one of the key ingredients for global action. Gatherings like the WSDS are critical for creating awareness that we have a challenge to meet. Such discourses bring out some of the best ideas in terms of how we can not only solve the problem of climate change, but also harness opportunities like reduce energy costs. India has really stepped up globally as a thought and action leader with technology and policy. India is playing a critical role in ensuring that the global south is heard on these critical issues. 
What kind of changes do you see in the approach of corporates on climate action? 
In my three decades of working on the issue of climate change, I have never ever seen the engagement of the business community like we see it now. In fact, I remember the days when we would be negotiating climate treaties and wished that businesses and finance ministries would come into the negotiations in addition to the environment ministries.  Now when you go to a G20 gathering or you go to climate change negotiations, it is absolutely the financial perspective from the regulators to the business leaders that is driving the agenda. So, in these gatherings businesses step up and make commitments to net zero. 
What kind of climate action challenges do you see in India? 
India has distinguished itself by coming to the climate change negotiations with an acceleration of the emission reduction commitments, and then government and businesses came together. Similarly, the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting initiative is a game changer because it says that protecting the environment isn’t just nice to have, but it’s a must. 

At the same time, I think that there is a challenge of imagination to break out of old ways of thinking that if it is good for the environment, it must be bad for economic growth.  There is a challenge of looking at government rules and regulations and making sure that they are encouraging rather than putting up barriers to new technology. There is a challenge in mobilising the best and brightest minds in financial innovation, technology and research. We see India is tackling those challenges by turning them into opportunities better than any country in the world. In the building space, we are seeing some similar efforts here by the Government of India. India will be promoting the use of digital platforms in buildings, which will be the real game changer in driving us to net zero buildings. 
How important is India for Johnson Controls?  
Johnson Controls is a sustainable buildings technology company. 40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings. So, to tackle climate change, we have to decarbonise those buildings. The opportunity to do that in India in particular and most likely throughout the global south is especially great. It is for the simple reason that in a lot of the world 70-80 per cent of the buildings that would be standing in 2050 have been already built.  But in India the numbers are almost the opposite. Something like more than half of the residential and commercial buildings that will be standing in 2030 are yet to be built. What a huge opportunity it is to invent the technologies that would drive down energy consumption. Harnessing data would enable buildings to be efficient, healthy and clean air places for people to live and work in. India is the place where that technology can be invented and exported to the world. 
What kind of innovations are you bringing to India? 
We are not just bringing innovations to India, but many of our cutting-edge innovations are arising from the Centre of Excellence we have here in India. So, for example, the best-in-class digital platform is called Open Blue, which is a platform that enables for the first time ever to have insight into data coming from the operating system.  For example, air-conditioning, lighting and security systems speak amongst themselves and speak to all of those monitors that we leave on at our desks when we go home. We are not only able then to build some of the most efficient air-conditioners in the world, but also make the whole building efficient because the security system can tell the air-conditioning system that there is nobody on the fourth floor of the building and to stop blowing the air. With that digital platform, we can ensure that the area inside the building is always clean and healthy because we have sensors that are monitoring viral particles or allergens in the air and then automatically cleaning the air with humidity control. It is all being designed, developed and brought to life here in India. 
How is Johnson Controls engaging with the Government of India and State Governments?  
We engage in a series of workshops and help put together white papers around this idea of being able to finance energy efficiency upgrades through the savings you achieve. We are privileged to work with the Finance Ministry, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and the Bureau of Energy Efficiency. As India’s economy and the demand for appliances and technology like air-conditioning grows, it is important for buildings to become smart. 
How useful are innovative sustainable financial instruments mesh with your emission targets? 
Sustainable financial instruments are really critical because we know that if we looked only to governments to fund the transition to environmentally safe technologies, the experts tell us we are going to be short by $4 trillion a year. So, we have to harness private sector finance and we have to stir that in the direction of helping rather than hurting the climate. We are the first company on S&P to have traded in green bonds, a sustainability linked loan and a sustainable credit facility for operations. We have also produced a sustainable finance framework that backs up with those green investment instruments. With our most recent sustainability linked loan we made additional commitment to cut our operational emissions by 35 per cent by 2025. It is on top of our commitment to cut those emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 and it’s also on top of the track record we have now of having achieved 70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas intensity in our operations since 2002 when we first started this journey of dramatically reducing our emissions.