This environmental scientist shifts to banking to drive sustainability transformation

For a lot of us, celebrating and engaging in environment-related projects only happen during events such as Earth Day or Earth Month. However, for environmental scientist-turned-sustainability practitioner Nikki Lizares, driving initiatives that contribute to saving the world is a daily routine.

Nikki is Security Bank’s Sustainability Head—ensuring the Bank incorporates sustainability into its programs and operations, as aligned with its mission to enrich lives, empower businesses, and build communities.

“I learned how to snorkel before I learned how to swim!” Nikki quips, when asked how her passion for the environment started. She shared that her dad and uncle were part of a scuba diving community in the ‘80s that helped save Danjugan Island in Negros. After a mining company in the area suddenly shut their operations and left the townspeople with no jobs, dynamite fishing became rampant. The effects of that led the diving community to protect the island over the years that it eventually became a marine reserve and sanctuary through the Cauayan Municipal Ordinance 99-52 in 2000.

This exposure to conservation from a very young age sparked Nikki’s interest to become a marine biologist. In high school, she developed her public speaking skills and learned more about environmental laws. She then eventually took up Environmental Science in college.

Nikki saw how the situation was from the grassroots, having started her career in a family-built NGO.

At one point, she led the Danjugan Island Environmental Education Program (DEEP), a project focused on educating public school students on climate change and wildlife conservation. Aimed at raising awareness of these concepts among the youth, DEEP was formally adopted by the Department of Education in Region 6 and applied as a co-curricular activity. While climate change had been a topic for decades in the science and education sectors, Nikki’s experience showed her that those who were powerful and influential enough to lobby for significant change (e.g. big business) still needed convincing.

Nikki’s first venture into corporate life was as a research associate for an organization that assesses companies based on their sustainability metrics, disclosures, practices—which is key for investors who take sustainability seriously. It was during this time that she decided to take up her Master’s in Education for Sustainability at James Cook University in Australia.

After two years, Nikki’s moved to an international law firm to develop their environmental management system. This role gave her the opportunity to see how other countries implement their own sustainability policies, and she wondered how the same could be done in the Philippines.

“With our unique context and geography, how would something like a science-based target work?” she thought to herself.

Nikki then joined a global bank’s corporate sustainability team just before COVID-19 hit. Like many people during the height of the pandemic, she went through a lot of introspection. Detached from her island roots, she felt that corporate practice may not be the path for her. “I thought about quitting my job, moving to the beach, and taking up marine biology—a childhood dream of mine,” she shared.

But it seemed there were other plans in store. She recounted: “Call it serendipity or divine providence, but the very next day after I made the decision to quit, somebody from Security Bank called me and said, “We’re looking for someone to help us on our sustainability journey.”

Nikki’s Sustainability team reports directly to the Chief Financial Officer and aligns with respective Board Committees. The support given to her team and their initiatives and shows the Bank’s commitment to furthering its sustainability imperative.

“My goal, though, is that someday my role will no longer be needed because sustainability has been deeply ingrained in everything we do,” she concludes.

With Nikki’s help, Security Bank has implemented an Environmental and Social Risk Management System—a framework that guides the Bank in assessing its lending and investment activities through a lens of environmental and social risks such as climate change, energy transition, health, and safety.

Nikki emphasizes that sustainability is not a realm reserved for scientists. Advocates and experts in the business, finance, and public policy sectors are also needed. She is keen to tell stories and share her own, with the hope that young people are empowered knowing there is something they can do to contribute and become sustainability advocates. Follow her on LinkedIn or read her personal work at nikkilizares.com. Information on Security Bank’s Sustainability initiatives may be found in their latest Annual Financial and Sustainability Report and Security Bank Foundation’s programs may be viewed at https://www.securitybank.com/sustainability/.

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