The ESV Conference: Sustainability vs. Profitability

Profitability-and-Sustainability congres redactie

On Tuesday, April 21st, the time has finally come! The ESV congress will take place for the first time at an external location, namely at brasserie Bikkels in the NEC stadium.

Sustainability, fair trade, green, environmentally friendly, ecological, vegan and biological. These terms have become inescapable and are thrown into every conversation. Where do all these concepts suddenly come from?

The majority of the Dutch population (65%) turns out to be concerned about global warming. To do something about it, we are mainly looking at companies and the government. A reason for this is that it appears that six out of ten Dutch persons agree with the following statement: “As long as big companies do not reduce their CO2-emission, my actions do not matter”. Sustainable thinking exists but sustainable doing is still lacking. A fun fact: people with an above average income, men, VVD and CDA voters, house owners and the highly educated emit more CO2 than the average Dutch citizen.

Why should we start a sustainability transition? Sustainability is supposed to provide for the needs of this generation without endangering the needs of future generations, so that your children and the children of your children can still live on this planet. Shortly summarized, the problem is that all of us are using way too many resources and are producing way too much waste. There is no recycling anymore. Resources are depleting and the waste has a big impact on the environment. More and more people are convinced that we should do something.

The sustainability transition has, besides saving the world, a few other advantages for companies. First of all, sustainable business practices improve conscious use of production resources. This can lead to several savings and therefore lower costs. Also, corporations need to comply with future legislation. The Paris Climate Agreement states that in 2030 countries must reduce their CO2-emission by 50% compared to 1990. In any case, companies have to invest to become environmentally friendly. If companies start investing now, they can spread those investments over several years. Lastly, firms can even ask higher prices for their products when they have a ‘green’ reputation. In 2019, 53% of the consumers said that they pay attention to sustainability when buying products. In 2018 this was only 46%.

The idealistic sustainability goal, however, has a price tag. The innovations go hand in hand with huge investments which need to be made before sustainability bears its fruit. Only few innovations result in an immediate financial gain, therefore, some companies decide to postpone the transition to green business practices. Also, some organizations engage in ‘Greenwashing’. The companies display their activities as more sustainable than they actually are. They try to enjoy the advantages of a green image without putting in the effort or investments (think of the Volkswagen scandal). Moreover, sometimes sustainable companies create a ‘moral balance’. This means that consumers who support corporate responsible companies or buy sustainable products start acting less responsible because they feel like they are already contributing to society.

The goal of our conference is not to transform every participant into a climate activist, or the opposite, prove that all of this is fake news. Above all, the committee wants you to gain insight in the companies perspective on how they deal with this new challenge. This year, the conference is a lustrum conference. Therefore, we have strived to exceed ourselves compared to previous years. The congress will, as mentioned before, for the first time take place at an external location. The committee have tried our best to invite interesting companies.

For the opening, we welcome H&M to start off the conference. The in-between rounds will be held by PwC, USGFinance, ProRail, DSM, ABT and Rabobank. The conference ends with a presentation by a representative of Samsung. After the conference, we would like to invite you to join us for a drink.

Keep an eye on the ESV social media pages because the companies will introduce themselves in the coming weeks.

By: Selina Brouwers