How to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to sustainability, an interview with AG Insurance

How to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to sustainability, an interview with AG Insurance

With sustainability already high on the agenda before COVID-19, the global pandemic acted as a tailwind and fueled consumers’ concern about the human-caused pressure on planet and people. To understand what this means for businesses, we connected with sustainability and marketing professionals around the world in a series of ‘Conscious Consumption’ interviews.

In this interview, Joeri Van den Bergh connects with Nathalie Erdmanis, Director of Sustainability & Director of Strategic Marketing, Branding & Data Insights Analytics at AG Insurance, to hear how the insurer wants to contribute to a more sustainable world.


Sustainability is part of our DNA

Q: Why is sustainability an important topic for an insurer such as AG?

“The question is no longer whether a company chooses a sustainable strategy, but how it can make an optimal contribution to a more sustainable world. At AG, we firmly believe that insurances – and especially our investments – are a powerful lever to build a more sustainable, just and equitable world. Because the investments we make, serve as a guarantee of our commitments towards our customers.

In fact, sustainability is part of our DNA. As our Chief Investment Officer Wim Vermeir would say: “It is natural for us to take into account the social and environmental risks of our investments, because these are often risks that only occur in the long term. Just think of climate change or the growing inequality in the world. Recognizing, acknowledging and evaluating these risks in all our investment decisions is therefore both a social duty and a form of efficient risk management, and proof of good governance.”

More concretely, our approach to sustainable and responsible investing is based on three principles:

  • the exclusion of controversial activities (e.g., weapons, tobacco and fossil fuels);
  • the incorporation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in all of our investment decision processes;
  • an active ownership in companies we invest in through our engagement and voting policies.“


Walk the talk

Q: Do consumers care about their insurers’ actions around sustainability?

“More and more customers, private individuals as well as companies and government institutions, attach importance to the way insurers invest their savings and ask questions about it. This explains, among other things, the success of labels such as Towards Sustainability. This initiative, founded in 2019 by the Belgian financial sector, defines a number of minimum requirements that sustainable financial products must meet. After an audit by an independent external institution, products that meet the standard will receive the sustainability label. Yet, consumers hear a lot of vocabulary circulating on the topic of sustainability: labels, certificates, EU taxonomy, UNPRI, etc. Our role is not only to invest in sustainable goals, but also to guide our clients through what we can call ‘the jungle of sustainability’.

To be relevant for consumers, it’s also important that a brand’s sustainability positioning goes hand in hand with its general positioning, and is backed up by concrete actions. Otherwise, you are greenwashing, or communicating without installing real change. That’s not right. You have to walk the talk.”


Focusing on 10 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Q: Can you share some concrete AG Insurance initiatives around sustainability?

“Since 2018, we have aligned our business strategy with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and we selected 10 of the 17 objectives to act upon.

United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

SDG4, for example, is all about ‘quality education’. One of our projects linked to SDG4 is ‘Scholen van Morgen(‘Schools of Tomorrow’), a public-private partnership (PPP) between the Flemish government, AG Real Estate and BNP Paribas Fortis. Via this program, we cover the design, construction, financing and 30-year maintenance of 250 school building projects in Flanders (Belgium). Every ‘School van Morgen’ is a unique project, based on local needs and vision, and complies with all modern requirements in terms of sustainability, comfort and flexibility. You could say that thanks to the premiums we get from our older clients, we can invest in building schools for their grandchildren. Another great project is Yongo, launched in 2017. It’s an online savings platform that teaches children the value of money and supports them in saving for specific goals – such as a pair of rollerblades, a guitar, or a smartphone. Parents, grandparents, family and friends can also use the platform to contribute and help them realize these goals. As such, Yongo helps to give children a financial headstart in life, while teaching them important lessons along the way.

Another one is SDG11, which is all about sustainable cities and communities; and here we play a role with initiatives by our subsidiary AG Real Estate. Our aim is to reshape the city of tomorrow in a positive and sustainable manner, while having the interests of clients and partners at heart. Concrete examples in this domain are our investments in the new tramway in Liège, or the participation of AG Real Estate in the Up4North project that aims to give new life to the central and northern area of Brussels.

In summary, the long-term thinking of sustainability and insurance go hand in hand, and it is an obvious match. Moreover, consumers expect their insurer to invest in a responsible way, helping them to find their way through the ‘sustainability jungle’. AG Insurance links its sustainability strategy to the UN’s Social Development Goals, and actively sets up projects around 10 of those goals.


Hungry for more? Stay tuned as we will release more ‘Conscious Consumption’ interviews in the coming weeks!

Conscious Consumption

Conscious Consumption

Sustainability is a key concern amongst consumers, and this has only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. This bookzine highlights some of the key barriers amongst consumers as well as their expectations towards brands, through proprietary research, expert interviews with sustainability executives from several industries, and brand illustrations.

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Joeri Van den Bergh
Co-founder, NextGen & Sustainability Expert

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Joeri Van den Bergh