Teresa Leung, General Manager of the Finance and Technology Business Division at the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA).

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As a business and finance hub, Hong Kong is also becoming an important center for talented individuals who are dedicating their careers to sustainability, an agenda that is becoming increasingly critical to business success. Sustainability as an industry has attracted more women than many others, and the sector in Hong Kong is no exception. To celebrate #IWD2021, IFC on March 8 launched a series of interviews with women in the Fragrant Harbour who are championing the sustainability agenda in Asia.

Our next interview is with Teresa Leung, General Manager of the Finance and Technology Business Division at the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA), which helps industry and commerce in the development of quality, environmental, safety, hygiene, social and other management systems. Teresa is responsible for promoting sustainable finance-related business to companies. She also works closely with local government municipalities and financial institutions within the Greater Bay Area and Xian region to implement international standards and good practices in green finance and ESG.

How would you describe your work? 

Since its creation by the Hong Kong Government in 1989, HKQAA has played an active role in promoting management practices, sustainability and responsible investment in Asia, which helps facilitate government policies for the betterment of our community. 

HKQAA strives to support Hong Kong’s development into a green finance hub in the region. Part of my job is to promote sustainable finance-related business to enterprises from different sectors by providing them with professional services to assess and certify green and sustainability-related loans and bonds. We also work closely with property developers and contactors to promote the requirements in their transition from brown to green, and to promote the notion of sustainable development by collaborating with various financial institutions. 

Traditionally, the industry focus has mainly been on promoting green and sustainable development among large and listed companies, but in fact over half of Asia’s GDP is generated by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Their participation will have a major impact on the progress of lowering the region’s carbon footprint and neutralizing carbon emissions. HKQAA launched the Green Loan e-Assessment Platform in December last year to help SMEs assess their loans to meet green and sustainable finance requirements and reach out to potential lenders. We support societies in Hong Kong as well as those in the wider Greater Bay Area. 

I also work very closely with commercial and investment banks to share our knowledge and build awareness of sustainable finance and development. I also lead and promote various green finance and responsible investment projects with local governments within the Greater Bay Area. 

From a sustainability standpoint, what are the biggest challenges facing the sectors you advise? 

We have enterprises coming to us that are interested in using sustainability-linked loans to improve their environmental performance targets. This is because in the fast-growing Asian market, enterprises need to continue to increase productivity, but meanwhile, they also need to reduce their energy consumption. That’s not an easy job. 

Another situation is about helping enterprises reframe their sustainability strategies to shift from what we see as threats to business opportunities. After identifying the environmental risk targets, either managing the issues or turning them into sustainable operations isn’t an easy job. The transition towards sustainable development is certainly a challenge. 

What have been some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in your career? 

Promoting the development of green and sustainable finance in Hong Kong during the pandemic hasn’t been easy, as it’s much easier to do this job with face-to-face meetings. Making different parties and industries aware that sustainability can be applied to a wider spectrum than what they traditionally understand is also a challenge. 

The good news is that as of 2019, $26 billion worth of green bonds have been issued in Hong Kong, which is a very good achievement. 

What needs to be done to make the real estate and banking industries more inclusive of women? 

These industries in Hong Kong are quite inclusive. They’re open for both men and women, so long as you’re capable and have a suitable industrial or educational background. Hong Kong is a very open business community. 

When you were young, what did you think about women’s leadership and women’s empowerment? How have your views changed? 

My mother worked in senior management for a listed global conglomerate, and at the same time she managed to support her family very well. That taught me that women can choose a balance between family and career. The same situation applies in a lot of other countries, for instance, in Singapore and in Europe. So long as we are willing to work, the doors are open. 

What advice would you give other women looking to forge a similar career path? 

Hong Kong has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. To reach that position, the sustainability industry needs a lot of talented professionals. Sustainability is a good career path to take right now. 

My advice to women everywhere is to go for what you want in your career and not give up. Make sure you have the skills necessary to achieve these opportunities, such as communication, leadership development and technical skills, as well as emotional intelligence. Raise your hand in meetings, speak up and be heard. More women than men end up leaving work to raise families, but it shouldn’t be a case of child or career.

It’s also important to stay up to date with technology and workplace changes, and to maintain contact with your networks. That’s my advice to women across the board.