BusinessGreen's 'In the Green Room' series asks leading sustainability executives about the events, issues, and trends that have shaped their careers.
What was your first job?
When I was a teenager we spent our holidays in the countryside and a neighbour had to undergo surgery. He wasn't able to run his farm for ten days and I agreed to help out. I spent time milking cows, feeding cattle and working the land. It was great fun and a unique experience that very few city-dwelling teenagers get.
What was your first job in sustainability?
My educational background is in law and business administration and I first worked in strategy consulting. However I always had an interest in doing business responsibly and in the mid-90s I studied a course on responsible business. What I took away has stayed with me throughout my career. It convinced me to always look for the win-win situations and that company growth should not have a negative impact on future generations. Ten years ago I got the opportunity to put this into practice when I took my current position, which is to develop a lead in sustainability strategy for Smurfit Kappa. I haven’t looked back since.
Was there a single moment that made you want to work in the sustainability field?
There hasn’t been one single moment, rather I have always found it important to work for a company that sees sustainability as a long-term business opportunity. The sustainability curriculum that I followed in the 90s made me aware that the we were on an unsustainable track. I felt that it would be good to have the opportunity to contribute to changing this, which is why I was attracted to Smurfit Kappa.
What is your proudest career achievement?
I take pride in having been a driving force within Smurfit Kappa on sustainability issues for over ten years. Today we have a much more holistic view on sustainability than ten years ago and have made it part of our long-term strategy. A recent highlight has been in reaching many of our 2012 sustainability goals ahead of schedule.
What are your professional priorities for the year ahead?
One of my next priorities is to get the management behind ambitious new long-term targets that are also aligned with the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
What is the best thing about your current role?
It gives me the opportunity to make a difference in developing and progressing Smurfit Kappa’s sustainability agenda. Sustainability is a core part of our strategy and I do believe that we are leading the way in setting and delivering on sustainability targets and in providing transparency to stakeholders through our comprehensive annual sustainability report. Another very rewarding part of my role is seeing first-hand how Smurfit Kappa is implementing initiatives to benefit people and communities.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting out working in sustainability what would it be?
Many people assume that to work in sustainability, they have to be in a not-for-profit organisation. It depends of course on what your perspective is but it’s my view that for-profit or private sector organisations can both provide fantastic opportunities and create momentum in the area of sustainability. There is enormous scope for creativity in such an environment.
If you could introduce one green policy which would you choose?
I would implement a policy that made all countries who ratified the Paris Agreement commit to reversing CO 2 targets to the agreed level by 2050.
Do you think the world will meet the goals of the Paris Agreement?
To reach the goals of the Paris Agreement is a formidable task that may seem impossible to achieve. I am optimistic, however, that the younger generations especially are much more aware of the need to get there and that, as their influence grows as time passes, developments in this area will accelerate.
What would your green superpower be?
My green superpower would be something that would reverse some of the damage that has already been done to the planet in one single action. To stop the melting of the polar ice caps with one frosty breath, or to clear the world’s oceans of plastic and rubbish in a snap of the fingers, would be an amazing superpower.
Where would you like to be in 10 years' time?
I hope that in 10 years' time the world will have really embraced the goals of the Paris Agreement and is actively working to realise these goals in time. I would be happy to know that I have made a real contribution towards reaching these goals.
How do you unwind after a long day helping to save the planet?
Spending time with my family, going for a bike ride or doing something else outdoors. Although I live in Amsterdam, the countryside is never far away and when cycling it is nice to see small wildlife in a natural setting so close to a large city. When you are in the middle of that, you realise it is worth fighting for a planet where people and nature are in long-term harmony with each other.