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Ben Harper, Head of Corporate Sustainability for Zurich North America, is ready to boast about being number one, but also recognizes that there is more work to be done.
Ben Harper, Head of Corporate Sustainability for Zurich North America, recently discussed how Zurich was named the insurance leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and what it needs to do to maintain its leadership positon.
Zurich was named the insurance industry leader for the Dow Jones Sustainability Index in 2020. What does this recognition mean for Zurich and its customers?
Ben Harper: The Dow Jones Sustainability Index is one of the most highly regarded measures of sustainability performance of industry, evaluating the sustainability of thousands of publicly traded companies. The fact that Zurich was ranked ahead of so many other financial institutions clearly shows that our commitment to sustainability is real and that our efforts to be known as one of the most responsible and impactful businesses in the world are beginning recognized.
Last year, Zurich was ranked number 2 in the industry in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index? What has happened since to put Zurich in the top spot in 2020?
Ben Harper: Zurich made some improvements in key areas since the last survey. Of the three primary evaluation dimensions, we earned the highest industry scores in two of the three (economic and social) and scored in the top quartile in the third category (environmental). We made significant gains with respect to corporate governance and privacy protection.
While Zurich is rightly proud of the recognition, you must see opportunities for improvement. Where can Zurich do better and what initiatives are planned?
Ben Harper: Our biggest area for improvement is where can we help our customers. And that means developing specialty products and services that can help them to be more sustainable and create a more sustainable future for their communities. Also, timing is everything. We expected that the new White House administration would accelerate the low-carbon transition, and we are already seeing evidence of this. With this more aggressive climate strategy, there will be a need for us to provide risk mitigation products and services as new technologies are at the center of these transition pathways. As risk managers, we are the first to recognize that new technologies present new risk, and we want to be first with solutions.
At Zurich, we’re also working on ways we can help our employees to adopt more sustainable practices outside the workplace. And while we take our corporate environmental stewardship very seriously, as a financial services company, our sustainability baseline is clearly higher than other industries like manufacturing and power. So, we have been looking at ways we can encourage our employees to adopt sustainable practices in their own lives, as this is a place where, collectively, we can make a big environmental impact. This will be a focus in 2021, so be on the lookout for some exciting programs that will make it easier for Zurich employees to create a more sustainable household.
Are there any other benefits to being named the industry leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index?
Ben Harper: Yes. Our customers have taken notice. It has helped to open doors to our customers and prospective customers who share the same mindset. They’ve recognized that Zurich’s commitment to sustainability is real and that it aligns with their own commitment. It is a confirmation that we not only talk the talk, we walk the walk, and that sustainability is fundamental to the way we do business. Filling out “sustainability scorecards” as a qualifier for customers is becoming a weekly ask.
The recognition from Dow Jones has resulted in multiple client engagements on sustainability, climate and other topics. It has been a huge positive when it comes to shareholder relations. And it has been a big boost to Zurich’s reputation in the marketplace. I encourage everyone at Zurich to share this recognition with brokers and customers. We have earned this right to brag.