Taking CO2 neutral to the next level

Swiss Re committed itself to becoming climate neutral over a decade ago. But just being neutral is not enough. It has to be done right. This is why Swiss Re is a founding member of RE:100, an initiative of to take the use and provision of sustainable energy supplies to the next level.

Watch the RE:100 announcement here.

"Becoming CO2-neutral is an ongoing journey which we started in 2003," says Vincent Eckert, Head of Group Internal Environmental Management at Swiss Re. The process involves three steps: make our operations as energy efficient as possible; source as much energy as possible from renewable sources; and buy certificates to offset unavoidable CO2 emissions.

Addressing the issue of climate change has been a long-term strategic priority for Swiss Re for more than 20 years. Climate change is likely to cause more extreme and frequent weather events, resulting in greater damage and higher insurance losses. To avoid this, concrete action is needed. Society must become more resilient to severe weather and man-made greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced. Swiss Re wants to lead by example, showing what's possible in the corporate world regarding reduced emissions.

An evolution in CO2 savings

Our Greenhouse Neutral Programme has been one of the main ways to achieve this goal. The ten-year programme was launched in 2003 and originally combined two commitments: reducing our CO2 emissions by 15% per full-time employee; and fully offsetting all remaining emissions by purchasing high-quality emission reduction certificates, thus making the company greenhouse neutral.

When the Programme reached its official end in 2013, it was considered a resounding success. We had met the original 15% per employee reduction target in 2007, and later raised - and met - higher goals twice in two years.  By the end of 2013, we had achieved a total reduction in CO ₂ emissions per employee of 56.5% compared to 2003. The large reduction had also been made possible by a separate 2005 commitment to purchase as much high-quality renewable energy for our office locations as possible.

However, the number of emissions reduction certificates Swiss Re still has to buy is high. "We've set ourselves the target to reduce this amount as much as possible" says Eckert. "And we will only be able to reduce emissions related to our operations further if we join actions like RE:100."

A new way of engagement for emission savings

RE:100 aims to help businesses on their journey to 100% renewable power by different means. These include peer-to-peer learning to develop strategies for consuming and generating renewable power; providing advice and guidance on best practices for selecting renewable power options; and accounting for and reporting on the achievements. Participating companies include Mars, Nestlé, BT Group, Royal Philips, H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, Commerzbank AG, YOOX SpA and KPN.

Most importantly it will approach policy makers and regulators at the national and sub-national level jointly as a group to help make renewable power more available than it is currently. The initiative has, for example, a three year roll out engagement strategy planned for China, India, Brazil and South Africa which will be coordinated by The Climate Group.

This is especially important for Swiss Re, too. Operations are expanding in emerging markets, but green power is often not available. "Here we hope to generate market pressure with our partners to push for the generation of renewable energy," says Eckert.

Walking the talk

As well as reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions, Swiss Re has been supporting employees with its Group-wide 'COyou2 reduce and gain' programme. It involves Swiss Re subsidizing low-carbon investments made by employees of up to CHF 5000 or the equivalent in a local currency. Eligible investments include public transport passes, low-emission hybrid cars, and the installation of solar panels or heat pumps.

"RE:100 is the next important step in our commitment to tackle climate change" says Eckert. "It will help to generate market demand for green power and thereby contribute to making renewable energy a product more widely available across the planet."

Published 23 September 2014

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