Let’s make sustainability

PwC Switzerland’s lead partner for investor reporting and sustainability aims to work himself out of a job – at least in the long term. Recently he spoke to ceo magazine about
the state of sustainability.

Magazin: Green opportunity – November 2021

We hear a lot of gloom and doom about the fate of the Earth, yet here in Switzerland, the air and water are much cleaner than they were a few decades ago – is this a contradiction?

This might be a contradiction in perception, but not in reality. Climate change is by definition a global issue, but everyone sees it through their own lens. Here in Switzerland, yes, we have clean air and water, and that’s certainly good, but what if we look down into our soil or up at our glaciers? Sustainability really is about the fate of the Earth, so let’s not wait until it’s too late to preserve it. Let’s act while we still have time, before conditions permanently take a turn for the worse.

Must consumption be reduced, or is it more an issue of changing the type of consumption? What does this mean for an average person?

We live in a world where it’s difficult to tell someone what to do, how they should behave. One way to get there would be through the education of coming generations. What about now? Honestly, we need to reduce our consumption, and we need to reduce certain types of consumption more than other types. It’s hard to pick a particular type, but just naming one – consumption of meat – probably needs to go down. But less quantity doesn’t mean less quality. Think of how we eat nowadays, versus a few decades ago. Today there’s much more take-away, much more pre-prepared food. Behaviour evolves over time, and we need to direct that evolution. For the average person, this can pose a dilemma. Most people want to do the right thing, yet better-for-planet products tend to be more expensive. However, as those products become mainstream, their prices too should decrease – making it easier to change behaviour – with such change becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Christophe Bourgoin
Partner, PwC Switzerland

PwC has joined with WWF in calling for ‘circularity as the new normal’ in Switzerland. How do Swiss companies become part of that?

Only approximately 10% of resource consumption in Switzerland today is circular, so 90% isn’t. Changing that is a high ambition. But let’s remember: Switzerland has long worried about its dependence on foreign resources. Circularity is a way to mitigate that risk, to internalise resources. At first this might have sounded overly idealistic, but companies have started seeing the possibilities for growth it represents. In recent months I’ve seen them picking this up and asking how they can make this real, how they can make circularity part of their strategy to adapt existing business models or create new ones.

Your professional background is in corporate finance: how does that fit with sustainability?

It fits well! Particularly if you clearly see and can relate to both your values and your purpose. If you’re aiming to strive for better business, there’s no misalignment here. Sustainability and financial profit are complementary, as short-term decision horizons are usually not best for long-term value.

What’s next in sustainability?

Next I’m not sure, but ultimately it would be to make it redundant! Today we’re still in a phase of awareness building and goal setting. For instance, many companies are making net-zero commitments, many timed for around mid-­century. The leaders making those commitments today are not the same leaders that will have to deliver on those goals tomorrow. Sustainability needs to become so embedded in corporate strategy and thinking that it’s no longer considered separately, but becomes part of the company and a truly differentiating factor.

Christophe Bourgoin, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.