Dr Astrid Zwick’s passion for sustainable development has been the driving force behind her efforts to support Allianz Group gaining thought leadership in this area.
Insurance companies are key to achieving sustainable development. At first sight this statement might not seem self-evident. Insurers are not directly involved in research and development; they don’t build battery-run cars or renewable energy plants.
They do, however, provide an important precondition for all these activities: insurability. Insurance companies might be the most important risk managers we have. If they can’t take care of the insurability of a new technology or product it will never appear at the market. In addition, their long-term focus could serve as a model for sustainable investment.
Swiss Style met with Dr Astrid Zwick, sustainable development manager of the Allianz Group, to discuss Allianz’s efforts and attitudes towards sustainability.
Dedicated to development
Having joined the Allianz group in 2000, Astrid Zwick is just where she wants to be. After completing a PhD in climate change research, Dr Zwick became an adviser to the European Commission. “I went from a researcher to a policy adviser. This brought me in contact with a new perspective. You have to take a different approach when deciding policies. In science, the object is to dig deep into a subject, whereas when formulating policies, the accent is on taking decisions usually without complete information.”
Astrid Zwick’s dedication to sustainable development is highlighted by the fact that she always attained her positions through personal efforts. “I always went into my jobs without a special position existing. It was always on my own initiative.” Having combined research with policymaking, Astrid Zwick started shifting her attention towards the implementation of policies and the difficulties this poses. “Not a lot had happened in the economy in order to drive climate protection and I came to realize that the implementation of policies always involves money.”
Supervising a PhD that investigated the enabling role of financial service providers within the economy helped her understand the crucial role that insurance companies can play in the efforts to promote sustainable development. “Without insurance or project finance, you cannot develop new technologies and bring them on the market.”
Her path follows the natural course of policies: from the drawing board of the researchers to the chambers of the decision-makers all the way to the companies that turn the politicians’ and scientists’ words into reality. In her person she combines the three pillars of research, policy formulation and policy implementation, and is the ideal person to support Allianz in their efforts to promote sustainability.
Sustainable development, as defined in the Allianz Sustainability Report, is to manage risks and provide solutions. This implies integrating sustainability into the mainstream corporate strategy. Often, companies view sustainability as an externality that is being imposed on them by governments, without realizing that it can also be an opportunity. “I think that a lot of real and serious activities are needed to drive sustainable development,” Dr Zwick comments. “The critical point is that companies don’t understand sustainable development as an add-on or philanthropy, but as a strategic opportunity for them.”
Companies need to start viewing sustainable development as a chance to enter new markets. “There are many opportunities coming from sustainable development and I consider it a driver for innovation,” she adds. “Some companies share this perception and they will be very successful in the future.”
Indeed Allianz seems to share Dr Zwick’s views. In recent years, the insurance provider has created Allianz Climate Solutions, a unit dedicated to climate protection that tackles such issues as renewable energy and emission trading. Additionally, the company has established Global Life, which is committed to demographic change. This unit is trying to develop solutions to the problems posed by an ageing population.
As Dr Zwick herself admits, money is of the utmost importance when trying to implement sustainable development policies. So how have the efforts to further sustainability been hurt by the financial crisis? “Even in these dire times, the issue of sustainable development is crucial to the success of a company. In order to gain customers’ trust, companies have to look into more than just cash flows and numbers,” she argues. “They have to provide solutions for the challenges their customers face. And they have to demonstrate that they take ethical questions seriously and are aware of their responsibilities towards society.”
Changing consumer attitudes are forcing companies to shift their focus and take these new demands into consideration. Some are better equipped than others to internalize these concerns. In Allianz’s case, sustainability comes naturally. As an insurer, Allianz has to think in the long term. Sustainable thinking results directly from an approach that is geared towards long-term investments. When the company makes a promise to a 25-year-old client that it will cover his pension, it has to be in the position to provide the individual with a retirement fund 30 to 40 years later. By nature, Allianz has always taken a stable and long-term approach in its investments.
Challenges to equal opportunities
The emergence of new consumer preferences also influences investors’ inclinations. As interest in sustainable development grows, so does the market for sustainable shares. “This supports the demand for our stock and makes our shares more attractive,” says Dr Zwick. Yet, according to her, this is a spillover effect, albeit an important one.
Allianz is ideally placed to play a leading role in sustainable business. A natural inclination towards long-term investment, combined with the ability to view arising challenges as opportunities, truly makes this company a model for the future. directly from an approach that is geared towards long-term investments. When the company makes a promise to a 25-year-old client that it will cover his pension, it has to be in the position to provide the individual with a retirement fund 30 to 40 years later. By nature, Allianz has always taken a stable and long-term approach in its investments.
Article by David Sidler