"Thinking in terms of return has changed"

Published on: 15 April 2024

In the context of the publication of APG’s new annual report, we interviewed different people from inside and outside APG. The questions relate to developments in society, the (Dutch) pension industry and the financial world. We look back and forward. In this edition: Angélique Laskewitz, director of VBDO, the Vereniging van Beleggers voor Duurzame Ontwikkeling (Association of Investors for Sustainable Development).


Most striking VBDO news in 2023: bpfBOUW knocks ABP out of first place after many years as the most sustainable pension fund. What is the reason for the pension fund making it to first place in your annual list?

“The differences are small, but bpfBOUW scored a 4.8 on the scale of 5, closely followed by ABP with a score of 4.7 and PME with a score of 4.5. The actual execution of the investment policy weighs heavily in the assessment. We look at the voting policy and impact investments, for instance. It is unique for a fund to score that high. This is actually the first time we awarded five stars.

It is also great to see a woman, Eline Lundgren, at the helm of bpfBOUW. Only one out of ten management boards is composed of an equal number of both women and men. And only two out of the 49 largest pension funds have more women than men with a seat in the management board. It still is a man’s world.”


You would say: 4.8 out of 5 points, that means we are nearly there. What is still missing?

“We are of course criticized by NGOs, for instance, saying that pension funds still have a lot to improve. And that’s true: the funds still have a long way to go. So, the next step is all that matters now. There have to be new things to fight for, otherwise it would be very easy to stay lingering at the top.

That is why it is necessary to raise the bar. Next year we will be looking more at where the difference is truly made: in what aspect are you really contributing to a cleaner, fairer world? Pension funds could effectively invest more in energy services, for example by putting money into renewable energy. But you could also think about the healthy, sustainable side of food supply: eliminate meat companies from the portfolio and opt for concepts such as Beyond Meat. And don’t invest in companies that are involved in aggressive tax practices. True sustainability requires real impact and changes.

I do not rule out the possibility that smaller pension funds are ranked at the top of our next list, even though these funds have less capacity than the large funds. Pension fund Achmea has risen substantially this year. This small fund is very persistent in its policy. Truly remarkable.”


What should the focus be for the coming years?

“First of all, it is important that sustainability is a fundamental concern for the fund directors and is embedded in the investment strategies. We prefer to see active involvement of the directors. They have to assume responsibility and speak out about desirable transactions. That allows the portfolio manager to act accordingly. Society is asking for it. The pressure increases, and also pension participants express themselves. Thinking in terms of return has changed, it is no longer a financial matter but also a social issue. A healthy environment takes precedence over everything else.”