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Sustainability must be brought to our real-world economy

Much more capital is still going to fossil fuels than to sustainable energy. What do you think of that?

“We are stuck together in the real economy and in fossil energy. Investors continue to invest money in those kinds of companies to exert influence so that those large fossil companies make the switch to renewables. If you get out, you will no longer have that influence. That is the most frequently heard argument. But investing in fossil fuels is no longer in line with what was agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement. By not really entering into a discussion with the party in which you invest, you are avoiding something which you should not avoid. Those discussions are now much more frequent. And people also divest more often.”

How big is the role of capital in sustainability?

“It is essential. Who pays determines. It is an instrument for steering. When we are at the shareholders’ meeting, we are the voice of sustainability. There are also more and more people around us and behind closed doors who influence us in all kinds of ways.

I see a movement emerging. The voice of society is getting louder and louder. It’s about our living environment. Companies that pollute the environment make people angry. They’re fed up. That makes it more difficult for companies to continue in the old way.”

Is it fast enough?

“If you have been around for 27 years, the question is always whether things are going fast enough. It is still important to draw attention to the subject of sustainable investing. It is apparently very complicated to get people to change their behaviour. Because unsustainable behaviour is not immediately punished. You can just invest freely in fossil. But gradually people are starting to see it as a risk to invest in fossil instead of renewable. It used to be the other way around.

Sometimes I wonder what it all means. Because it’s going in the wrong direction so quickly. If we continue like this it won’t get any better, so we’ll have to do something else. Strong legislative interventions must also come from Europe.”

What is your goal?

“I would like people and organizations to include biodiversity and climate in their investment decisions. That they invest their money in companies that do no damage but consciously work on improving biodiversity, the energy transition or the protein transition.

My goal is for sustainable investing to become mainstream. Whether or not forced by law and regulations. Some say this is already the case, but I’m not so convinced. There is still a lot of traditional investment, certainly by very large parties. So I’ll be here for a while.”

How do you want to achieve that?

“We use the engagement tool for that. We go to the parties that invest to influence them. We ask what they are doing about it and ask commit from them. We make benchmarks of how sustainable insurers and pension funds invest, and who reaches the highest scores. We use this to positively stimulate sustainability.

We will have to bring sustainability into the real economy. And make a real change. You can do that by really investing differently. And show examples. And contribute to companies that develop sustainable alternatives.”

What kind of leadership is needed for that?

“The debate at the top really matters. And that really needs to change, both in the Netherlands and internationally. When appointing people, more attention must be paid to who will occupy those positions. I don’t determine who will be the new CEO or CFO. But I see it does work. Because with a leader who focuses on climate and biodiversity, it is easier for the entire company. Otherwise, you will not get it in your core processes and it will remain a side product for the sustainability department. And you want to leave it everywhere come.”

Are you satisfied with the results so far? What else do you want to achieve?

“If you see where we were 27 years ago, a lot has been achieved. We contributed to the creation of sustainability reports. This is now organized and regulated at a European level. The theme of sustainability is now a serious subject on all agendas, both in the business community and with investors. The world has not immediately changed, but we have gained a better grip on what companies actually emit. There are also countries where nothing is happening at all. I would like to see much more regulation. worked on in the EU.”

What drives you?

“I am Frisian, grew up in nature and have always been very involved with the Wadden Sea. I have learned to love nature and to fight for it. I am a lawyer and I also have a strong sense of justice. I like to contribute to a healthy and just world. Fortunately, that is possible in this position.”

Source: This article was translated from Dutch and was originally published by

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“When we are at the shareholders' meeting, we are the voice of sustainability”