Most pension asset managers and administrators in the Netherlands say they are working hard to bring down the carbon footprint of their internal operations. But few can underpin their efforts with concrete figures.
While most asset managers do provide data on their carbon emissions, this is not the case for most pension providers. Only the top-three Dutch providers – APG, PGGM and MN – provide such figures.
AZL, TKP and Achmea can only provide data for their parent firms which include large insurance operations.
Smaller, independent providers including Blue Sky Group and PGB do not have data on their carbon footprints either. A PGB spokesperson told IPE: “We have made large steps in the field of sustainability, but can’t yet underpin this with hard data.”
The most important source of emissions for APG, PGGM and MN are the heating and cooling of their offices as well as commuting and business travel. APG is the top polluter of the three, with carbon emissions of 4.2 tonnes per employee in 2019. This compares to 3.75 tonnes for PGGM and just 1.57 tonnes for MN.
The relatively high emissions for APG are probably related to its energy-inefficient offices. APG has three separate, partly outdated offices.
As a result, its offices consumed 43% of all of APG’s emissions in 2019, around two times the share of PGGM and MN which have more modern offices.
|CO2 emissions per FTE (2019)
|18.352 tonnes (4.2 tonnes per FTE)
|Carbon neutrality in 2030
|5.481 tonnes (3.75 tonnes per FTE)
|50% reduction in 2030
|1.543 tonnes (1.57 tonnes per FTE)
|50% reduction mobility in 2030
|51.500 tonnes (3.87 tonnes per FTE)
|Carbon neutrality in 2030
|23.000 tonnes (1.54 tonnes per FTE)
|70% reduction in 2030
|4.220 tonnes (2.66 tonnes per FTE)
|5.299 tonnes (6 tonnes per FTE)
|15% reduction in 2025
“It’s correct that especially our old office in Amsterdam, but also our office in Heerlen are not very energy-efficient,” an APG spokesman confirmed, adding: “Our move to a newly built office [in Amsterdam] at the end of this year should lead to a reduction in emissions.”
APG is aiming for carbon neutrality in 2030, excluding Scope 3 operations such as commuter travel. Right now, APG compensates its emissions with CO2 certificates.
PGGM, NN and Achmea do the same, among others (see box). They will have to continue doing this for a while as complete carbon neutrality remains a pipe dream for now, said Ciska Uijlenbroek of Climate Neutral Group, which helps companies (including PGGM until last year) reduce their emissions.
“You’ll always have some remaining emissions, for example from flying. Even electric cars are not always carbon neutral because of the origin of the electricity,” she said.
As a consequence, APG does not yet have a concrete plan to reach full carbon neutrality. According to Uijlenbroek, an organisation cannot reduce their carbon footprint by more than 3% a year after having taken relatively simple measures such as switching to renewable energy.
“It is logical for realised carbon reductions to vary year by year, but in general the more you’ve done to reduce your footprint the more difficult it gets to realise further cuts,” she added.
This shows the large emissions cuts in 2020 of up to 50% that APG, PGGM and MN proudly reported in their annual reports are unlikely to be maintained now that the COVID crisis is ending.
Fossil Free activists have mixed feelings about the efforts pension providers are making to become carbon neutral. After all, the emissions from their own internal operations are negligible compared to those of the companies they invest in.
“As long as these firms keep investing in fossil fuels, their efforts to become carbon neutral can mostly be seen as greenwashing,” a Fossil Free spokesperson told IPE.
“Only in case they divest from fossil fuels at the same time, such efforts could be considered valuable,” the spokesperson added.
The emission reduction targets Dutch pension providers have adopted vary wildly. Whereas APG and Achmea want to reach carbon neutrality by 2030, a 50% reduction is enough for PGGM.
PGB, for its part, wants to halve its mobility footprint. Other providers have not published concrete reduction targets.
Commuting and business travel are the largest source of emissions for all pension providers that publish data on their emissions. Consequently, mobility also is the area where most gains can be made.
Reducing emissions from their still large fleet of lease cars could be a good starting point. At MN, with a quarter of all annual emissions lease cars account for a larger share of the total footprint than housing. At APG, lease cars consume 20% of the carbon budget. PGGM is most ambitious on this as it aims to electrify its entire fleet of lease cars by 2025.
APG, for its part, wants its employees to fly less. It also plans to buy biofuel. “But fact is that we have offices in New York and Hong Kong too. And as an active investor we like to be close to our investments,” a spokesperson added.
APG also wants to stimulate the use of public transport, especially for commuter travel. This is more difficult for PGGM, as its office in Zeist is hard to reach by public transport. PGGM is therefore promoting cycling to work and more working from home, a spokesperson said.
Carbon compensation with trees and stoves
An increasing number of pension providers and asset managers in the Netherlands compensate for the carbon emission from their internal operations by investing in carbon compensation projects, for example by planting trees.
PGGM compensates its own emissions by investing in the Gold Standard Cookstoves Project in Uganda.
“In Uganda 90% of households cook on open fire, which besides serious deforestation also has bad health effects. The Cookstoves project provides efficient stoves requiring only half as much wood to cook,” according to a spokesperson.
Achmea supports a similar project in neighbouring country Rwanda.