At first glance, the worlds of APG Asset Management CEO Ronald Wuijster and Greenpeace Netherlands Executive Director Anna Schoemakers could not seem much farther apart. Still, it turns out they care deeply about the same topics. In a frank discussion, Ronald Wuijster explores what APG and Greenpeace can learn from each other and how they can each play their role in tackling two of the major challenges of our time: climate change and biodiversity loss.
At the time of writing, Anna Schoemakers is already traveling on the Rainbow Warrior III from Amsterdam to the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, picking up climate activists along the way. While she understands change takes time, she focuses on immediate action here and now. “Every day I work for a more green and peaceful future,” she says. “Climate and biodiversity are the issues closest to my heart.”
Ronald Wuijster uses a longer time horizon. His portfolio managers at APG aim to contribute to a sustainable world by integrating climate and biodiversity risk into investment decisions and investing in opportunities for the longer run. “To transition well, you need time. At the same time we do see that change is very urgent.”
Action here and now versus a longer-term transition
When asked about this dilemma, Schoemakers acknowledges that the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy takes time, but she chooses not to focus on that message. To make people aware of the urgency, Greenpeace aims for immediate action. Take climate adaptation, for example, such as building dikes to protect countries against rising sea levels. “My personal mission is to stop taking fossil fuels out of the ground as our source of energy,” Schoemakers explains. “My more nuanced rational side thinks about adaptive strategies as well, but I would not bring them to the table first. I’m afraid that when I do that, companies and governments won’t see the urgency of having to change anymore. We need to keep the pressure on.”
Greenpeace does not have the decision making power or the money to shift things, says Schoemakers. “But we do have the people, the voice and our actions. This way, we make sure we get in the media and make room for the actors that do have the decision making power, so they can maneuver.”
The risk of our approach is that things move too slowly, while the risk of Greenpeace’s approach is that we end up with energy shortages and all sorts of problems for human beings.
As a long-term investor, APG has the opportunity to look for solutions in the long run. “We also see some adaptive strategies that can play a role,” says Wuijster. “Still, we see that time is running out. We need more time for a solid and smooth transition than we have. The risk of our approach is that things move too slowly, while the risk of Greenpeace’s approach is that we end up with energy shortages and all sorts of problems for human beings. Our dilemma is that if you focus on 2050, this is so far out that there’s no sense of urgency to change. What we do is engage with companies, to make sure they understand our requirement for them to contribute to the energy transition. And if they don’t, we will divest.”
A simple, clear message versus nuance and completeness
As chair of the World Economic Forum biodiversity initiative, Ronald comes across a whole range of academic definitions of biodiversity, such as diversity in landscapes, the number of species or even diversity in DNA. Here too, Greenpeace chooses to make complicated things simple, to reach as many people as they can. Schoemakers: “For us, biodiversity focuses on oceans and forests. In our messaging, we do not explain the whole complex issue and the longer timelines required. We keep our message simple: ‘Save the oceans’ or ‘Save the forest’. And then we count on our nature organizations, scientists and other organizations to identify and analyze the underlying issues.”
“Of course we also look at the science, and we do understand the complexity of, say, the energy transition and that you cannot simply cut off everyone and leave them in the cold, but that’s not our key message. We do not have the time or the place to explain this at length. That could be your role.”
When Wuijster asks her what she would advise APG, she answers with a smile: “Stay radical! And keep explaining the story. Why are we doing this? Why do we need more sustainability? And keep engaging as many companies as possible and don’t let them get away with endless planning and calculations. In the end it will deliver a better place to live.”