May 14, 2024

Director Spotlight - Rita Parikh


Director Spotlight is a regular feature that provides an opportunity for a prominent director to discuss practical insights and critical developments on climate governance important for boardrooms. Chapter Zero Canada recently spoke with Vancity board Chair, Rita Parikh. We asked Rita her views on climate justice, Vancity’s net-zero commitment by 2040, and Vancity’s continued commitment to supporting communities most affected by climate change. Here are her responses:

What role does climate justice play in addressing disparities? How can we create sustainable, cooperative, and equitable environmental policies for all?

Those are big questions! Here’s how I see it: I believe climate justice is built on the recognition that climate change is, and will continue to be, experienced most severely by those who are the least responsible for and least able to mitigate its impacts. I’ve certainly seen that in my work with farmers in Bangladesh, and migrants and refugees from countries in Asia and Africa whose lives have been undone by drought, floods and famine. Climate justice underpins an explosive global movement that reaches far into Canada’s northern communities. It’s made up of everyone from scientists to farmers, bankers to fishers who know – from what we are already clearly witnessing – that the poor, the vulnerable, women, citizens of the Global South, Indigenous peoples – those who’ve been systematically and historically diminished and impoverished through colonial extractive economic practices – will be left behind and made more vulnerable as we transition to a more sustainable economy.

I like the notion of climate justice as a movement, because it also recognizes that these vulnerable populations – those who tend to be excluded from the political and economic decisions that led to the devastation of their livelihoods and communities – are also dynamic, knowledgeable and fierce agents of change. They are the true leaders in this movement.

So, at a policy level, that recognition means we – those of us in positions of privilege and power – have to engage in a different kind of conversation, one that centres the voices of those living on the margins. That’s the only way we’ll truly understand how climate change is being experienced, and how best to address it. And it’s the only way we’ll be able to effectively go beyond protecting the vulnerable, to ensuring that they drive and benefit from transition strategies.  

Could you please elaborate on Vancity’s net-zero commitment by 2040? What steps are being taken to achieve this goal?

Vancity’s ambition is to reach net zero emissions by 2040 across all of our mortgages and loans. That means we aim to eliminate or at least significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions of the things we finance – like buildings and businesses – and that any remaining emissions will be brought to net zero.

To achieve this goal, we are working to calculate the emissions of what we’re lending to – whether businesses, commercial real estate or homes. The expertise and science here is evolving, and we are learning as we go. We are also working with our members to help reduce these emissions. Finally, we know we don’t operate in a vacuum, and that hitting our goals will mean broader policy changes led by governments, non-profits and community groups. And so, we also work with them, and speak in support of policy changes that can lead to emissions reductions.

Given the volume of mortgage lending we do, Vancity focuses a lot on buildings, and their associated emissions. As our climate changes, the built environment need to both release fewer emissions and be safe spaces during climate extremes like heat waves. So, some examples of how we are supporting our members to reduce emissions include our Home Energy Advice, which is free for Vancity members, and our Planet-Wise suite of lending products which support members to make their homes, businesses, and mode of transport lower emission. 

How does Vancity support communities affected by climate change? Specifically, can you give some examples of financial and social inclusion solutions you provide to facilitate a transition to cleaner and more sustainable living?

The rate and magnitude of climate change is already straining community infrastructure, health and wellbeing, and cultural traditions and practices. These impacts differ across communities, and we know that climate risks compound existing social inequalities. That’s why Vancity’s board and staff have insisted on a climate justice approach to the work we do.

Through our Shared Success granting we’re helping to ensure continued access to climate-safe affordable housing. Our Non-Profit Housing Retrofit Program provides grants to non-profit housing providers and housing co-operatives to initiate deep energy retrofits that help to ensure occupant comfort and health, and we support climate-friendly retrofits for on-reserve housing. Beyond that, we are exploring how best to fund green energy initiatives owned or led by equity-deserving groups.

How does Vancity measure and report its progress in improving the well-being of people, communities, and the environment?

I need to start by saying that Vancity takes emissions measurement and reporting very seriously. I’ll also point out that we are learning; we expect our approach will evolve as the expertise and consensus around best practices in measurement deepens. Currently, Vancity measures our positive impact in a variety of ways. For example, we apply the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials Global GHG Accounting and Reporting Standard when measuring and reporting the extent of our lending emissions. And as part of our focus on Reconciliation we are pursuing Progressive Aboriginal Relations certification, which will help assess our performance and areas for improvement. We’re also a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV), and as part of this we measure our triple bottom line assets and assets under administration (TBLAA). The GABV defines TBLAA as assets that contribute to at least one dimension of social/cultural, economic, or environmental wellbeing. At Vancity, more than 30 percent of our total assets, including those assets that we administer, fall into this category.

Vancity is a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB). Through the PRB, banks take action to align their core-strategy, decision-making, lending and investment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and international agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement. As a signatory, we are committed to producing an annual self-assessment – on which we pursue limited assurance – that reports on our progress in implementing the six PRB principles, including how we are progressing on the emissions reductions and financial health targets we’ve set. We also report our progress in our Annual Report, and in our Climate Report. We’ll be publishing our second ever climate report in early May, with further details on our initiatives to date and other ways we’re pursuing climate opportunities and managing climate risk.


Full biography:

Rita is the Chair of the board of Vancity Credit Union and is a director with the Vancity Community Investment Bank. She brings to her roles decades of engagement with women, migrants, community groups, Indigenous peoples, and social movements in Asia, the South Pacific, and Canada. Through this work, she has been witness to the devastating impacts of climate change on communities, livelihoods, and cultures. And she had the privilege of observing and supporting strategies for change.

Rita has been a board director or chair of large cooperatives – like Mountain Equipment Coop – as well as of several national and local non-profits including Oxfam Canada, the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre, and the Victoria International Development Education Association. She is also a seasoned executive in the non-profit community where she served as the Executive Director of both Pacific Peoples Partnership and Canadian Parents for French (BC). Rita is a recognized leader in the Canadian healthcare regulatory sector, and was the Executive Director of the Nursing Community Assessment Service (within BC’s largest healthcare regulator, the BC College of Nurses and Midwives) where she spent eight years working to accelerate and ease the entry of internationally educated nurses into Canada’s workforce. She is also the co-founder of the Pacific Refugee Welcome Group in Victoria, which has sponsored and supported the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Eritrea.

Rita earned a Master of Arts in International Affairs from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University. She is the mother of two young adults who love and treasure the outdoors. Rita is a grateful guest on the unceded territories of the Lekwungen Peoples, and recognizes her obligation to continue to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples to identify and dismantle the legacy of colonialism.

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