Mathilde Dufour has been with the Natixis group since 2009, initially as a socially responsible investing (SRI) analyst at a time when sustainable finance was in its infancy, she says – "before the Paris agreement [and] the UN-Sustainable Development Goals".
Dufour started her long career in sustainable finance working for an ESG rating agency in 2007, before crossing over to the asset management industry.
She was later involved in the inception of Mirova, an affiliate of Natixis Investment Managers that is dedicated to sustainable investing and holds a seat on its management committee.
"I was involved in designing the way we wanted to approach ESG with a solution-driven angle – I am not sure we called it 'impact' [investing] at the time, but it is. We wanted to invest in sustainability and look at the ESG risks at the same time. That was core to our mission," she says.
In 2013, Dufour became the head of sustainability research at Mirova, a position she still holds but which has changed drastically over the years as the company expanded its sustainable investment approach to all asset classes and increased its focus on natural capital and biodiversity.
She also led the project to transform Mirova into a 'mission-driven company' under French law and its B Corp certification in 2020.
Another key focus in recent years has been impact measurement, she says.
Dufour has been instrumental in developing a metric that attempts to measure the full sustainability impacts of Mirova's investments in areas such as nature and biodiversity.
"We believe investors should have a metric to measure how investee companies can proactively contribute to reducing pressures on biodiversity alongside managing their negative impacts," she says.
Mirova is also one of four French asset managers who mandated Iceberg Data Lab and advisory firm I Care & Consult to build a 'corporate biodiversity footprint' tool to cover the impact of investors' portfolios on biodiversity.
The corporate biodiversity footprint reflects a business' negative impact on ecosystems, via its land use, nitrogen deposition, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and release of toxic compounds, using the metric of 'mean species abundance per km2'.
"Of course, it is more difficult to set metrics for biodiversity compared with climate. There is not one single metric," she says. "However, we can still have a good understanding of which sectors are the most impactful on biodiversity. Often, the most impactful sectors are also the ones which can provide the solutions."
Mirova engages with many firms – in particular, with those in the food sector – to ask them to map more precisely their impacts on their agricultural supply chain, alongside increasing practices like regenerative agriculture.
Meanwhile, her work in the climate metrics space has also continued to develop.
Mirova, along with Robeco and a group of 11 investors, this year launched a call for expressions of interest to develop a global database of 'avoided emissions' factors and associated company-level avoided emissions.
The concept of 'avoided emissions' – which some observers have called 'Scope 4 emissions' – focuses on quantifying realised or potential avoidance of GHG emissions that would otherwise have occurred, such as by companies whose products or services help other companies decarbonise.
"There is still no single methodology for so-called 'Scope 4' emissions, so that's why we are trying to launch an industry standard," Dufour says.
Unlike induced emissions that benefit from strong methodological bases, avoided emissions are calculated in a variable manner by different companies, which jeopardises their credibility and prevents their use at scale, according to Mirova.
Looking ahead, Dufour says she will continue to focus on these areas of innovation and impact measurement: "We're making sure that we develop the most innovative tools and – as we work on metrics – we can report on impact in a way that is understandable for end users."
Dufour is also part of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) and Mirova was one of the early adopters of the framework. This will continue to be a focus for the next year, she says, alongside working on the emergence of biodiversity credits.
"At Mirova we have demonstrated that it is possible to embed ESG at the core of an asset management company – for all its strategies – and make it ESG and impact-driven across all asset classes, not just private markets. I have enjoyed contributing to that over the last 10 years," she says.
"It has been a source of both satisfaction – and pressure – as we continue to innovate."