Sustainable development is no longer about environmental issues alone: these challenges can and should be used to create a win-win agenda for employers, workers and civil society, says Veritas Chief Investment Officer Niina Bergring. She talks about this issue in the European Economic and Social Committé on 2nd October.
Already many companies and business leaders take ambitious action to move towards climate neutrality and include SDG in their business models. But more needs to happen for us to transition towards a fully sustainable economy for sustainable societies. What is your vision for this transition?
As a pension provider, our mission is a sustainable economy long into the future. Our beliefs are in line with the definition of sustainable development in the EU reflection paper: “Sustainable Development is about the future of people; the economy should, within the planetary boundaries, work for society to deliver prosperity and equity, now and for future generations”. How do we as a pension provider contribute here?
We have two core businesses: One is investment management. The other one is executing the pension system on behalf of the Finnish state, employers and employees. This work includes helping all private sector employers develop better workplace well-being.
As an investor, we safeguard the long-term wealth of our nation. Our return target requires a sustainable global economy in the long term. Thus, we integrate sustainability analysis in all our decisions, in order to manage risks and deliver the required returns. We seek opportunities and avoid risks. We are an active owner and an active actor in our society. We participate in investor groups advocating sustainable practises both in the companies we invest in, the asset managers we employ and towards policymakers.
We need more long-term systems-thinking, more cross-discipline co-operation and integration of sustainability risks and opportunities to company strategy development and communication.
The pension system in Finland makes sure no pensioner is economically left behind - we have a statutory defined benefit system which is equal and aims to be equitable between current and future generations. Our pension system is also very cost effectively managed. One of the best in the world, and we are proud of it.
Workplace well-being and sustainable work
The third part of our core business is to work with employers on developing workplace well-being and sustainable work for all. This is also an effort that is fostering sustainable economy for the future as more people will have capacity to stay healthier and work longer.
So, we are contributing in many ways for a more sustainable future and sustainability is our mission. Our vision for the transition, or perhaps, where we and other long-term investors would need some help is what I would like to share here.
As an investor we need a lot more relevant sustainability information from our investee companies. Here the word relevant is the relevant part. There is so much information many companies are producing, but the relevance may be lacking. Relevance is a company specific definition and each company must truly understand their business and its relation to the surrounding world in order to produce relevant information.
Companies need sustainability competences at the board level
Therefore, I propose that every company, especially the larger listed companies, should make sure they have sustainability competences at the board level (and obviously in the organization). Companies should lengthen and broaden the horizon for strategy work, so that relevant sustainability risks and opportunities would become an integrated part of anything that happens in a company. I am advocating more long-termism and systems-thinking in developing company strategy.
Governance for sustainability should be strengthened. Companies should apply a systematic governance model and reporting for the strategic management of all sustainability issues, not only the environmental issues. Accountability for sustainability lies at the board level and should be integrated in anything a company does.
All organizations need to upgrade their knowledge and competences regarding sustainability issues. Not the least us investors. This is no small feat! I personally have studied for years and still am a novice. The competence and knowledge requirements are huge, and the issues are complex. So, I envision a lot of hard work!
How can this be learned by non-experts, now?
One key question is how to transform sustainability knowledge from science to such form that it can be learned by non-experts much faster? One suggestion is that all curricula in all universities globally apply a basic course on sustainability. Also scientists or science organizations should become better at communicating their findings in a society-relevant form. The trouble is of course that it takes two to tango. People need to be nudged to study more throughout their careers!
Thus, we need more long-term systems-thinking, more cross-discipline co-operation and systematic integration of relevant sustainability risks and opportunities to company strategy development and communication. We do need more brave visionaries in every organization for this transition to happen swiftly.