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Turning climate goals into concrete actions? Choose expertise in the boardroom

12 March 2022

Against all expectations, climate goals are not high on Dutch companies’ agendas, as shown by the yearly survey carried out by consultancy firm PwC. Although there is certainly some progress, most boardrooms still use short-term profit as the main measure of achievement. The obvious choice is to immediately look at the importance of performing well financially.

The boardroom is essential in overseeing and stimulating sustainable enterprise in the whole organisation. It is up to the CEO as well as the boardroom to make clear to employees, investors and other stakeholders how current actions impact society. Sustainability should be a fixed topic of conversation in the boardroom. That is only possible by appointing leaders with expertise in this area, climate goals for example.

A green thumb at the company top

Several different governance structures are possible to create more attention for prominent sustainability issues in an organisation and most of all, to become more decisive in tackling them as an organisation. Appointing someone responsible for this, or even appointing a fully specialised board committee brings the necessary expertise to the company. This is extremely necessary to ensure that you know which issue requires which action and how you can make a difference.

Sustainability experts in the boardroom have led to remarkable results. They reflect companies’ underlying need to not only check their achievements when it comes to sustainability, but to also improve them. This could be by preparing trainings and sessions, reporting on sustainability issues or involving the boardroom in urgent decisions.

An ideal leader that is competent when it comes to sustainability, possesses the necessary knowledge of important environmental and social questions that have an influence on the organisation and on society. He/she is a professional that asks the right questions, supports and challenges management and makes carefully considered decisions.

From source of contention to decisive organisation

Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO, made sustainable entrepreneurship the foundation for his leadership strategy. As a part of Unilever’s iconic Sustainable Living Plan, a Chief Sustainability Officer was appointed that manages the sustainability agenda and is a member of the boardroom. This brings sustainability to the heart of the boardroom and forces directors to actively focus on sustainability.

In the case of Unilever, there were clear results. The company was recognised as frontrunner in sustainability for the tenth year in a row according to the GlobeScan-SustainAbility-survey. Aside from that, Unilever developed the Future Foods programme which helps people switch to healthier food. The list of sustainability goals seems infinite, but all issues are made concrete with clear actions.

We need sustainability expertise in boardrooms to counteract climate change, otherwise the issue will remain a source of contention with no solution in a meeting room. Sustainability needs to go hand in hand with a company’s core strategy. That is the only way that a company can become decisive enough to actually realise a sustainable future.


Hanneke Rinkes, Managing Director Newpeople

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