April 18, 2007 10:58 ET

Corporate environmental campaigns: PR or genuine action?

BRUSSEL, BELGIUM -- (MARKET WIRE) -- April 18, 2007 --

To mark the publication of its Corporate Social Responsibility Report[1], Fortis has commissioned researchers Ipsos to carry out a survey into public perception of corporate efforts to protect the environment. The company has also invited a number of experts to debate the issues. The survey revealed that one out of two Dutch people still believes that climate change does not pose a threat to the environment. Climate change itself is blamed primarily on industry. Serge de Gheldere, Al Gore's 'climate ambassador' in the Benelux countries, is convinced that we all have to take urgent action. Fortis takes its social responsibility seriously and has already launched a number of measures in this area. Céline Louche, who lectures on CSR at the Vlerick Management School, believes that society currently expects more than companies will be able to deliver in terms of social and environmental protection.

The survey Ipsos carried out for Fortis suggests that Dutch people are still largely unafraid of climate change: only one out of two people questioned (51%) see it as a serious threat to society. When asked who they blame for climate change, 65% cited industry as the primary culprit. The population itself came second (47%), with transport only featuring in third place (46%). Almost two out of three respondents (70%) considered efforts to protect the environment to be insufficient.

Some 48% of Dutch citizens would be prepared to pay up to 10% more for products that are less harmful to the environment and to their own health, and 14% would pay up to 20% extra. The survey also revealed that Dutch people continue to show little interest in ecological investment funds. Only 14% of the sample said they would be willing to invest up to 30% of their savings in a fund of this type, and just 5% would consider placing 30-59% of their savings in one.

Society expects more than companies will be able do deliver

"Climate change is front-page news in all the papers, so it's hardly surprising that over half the people surveyed view it as a threat. But the question is how long that awareness will last," says Céline Louche, CSR expert at the Vlerick Management School, based in Leuven and Ghent. She detects widespread scepticism when it comes to the efforts companies are making to protect the environment: "Even if businesses are doing better socially and environmentally - and I am convinced they are - they are still not meeting society's expectations or demands. That can have a positive effect, as it puts a certain pressure on businesses to improve their performance. But if the divide gets too big, there is a danger that this positive pressure can turn negative, putting a brake on companies' efforts rather than stimulating them."

Waiting is not really an option

For his part, Serge de Gheldere - Belgian Al Gore's 'climate ambassador' - is surprised that 31% of Belgians still doubt that climate change is a genuine threat. "Over the past 15 years, the scientific community as a whole has issued four unequivocal warnings about the dangers posed by climate change. (.) It is striking too to see how much blame is being heaped on the business sector. This is the first time in history that we have found ourselves in the midst of such a crisis - a bit like the period before the outbreak of a war - without anyone feeling any real responsibility. We can only succeed if we work together: by changing our habits, through government action and by taking advantage of new opportunities in the business world. The good news is that as soon as we start viewing this crisis as a genuine opportunity, we'll be able to reap the benefits of more efficient and rational energy consumption. And that goes equally for mobility, buildings and food production.[2] (.) Sooner or later, of course, there will be a price to pay. It makes a lot more sense to start investing in the environment now, because that way we can 'make carbon profitable'. It really isn't an option to wait any longer."

Fortis has been carbon-neutral since the beginning of 2007

Fortis recognises that companies have a responsibility that goes beyond simply exceeding market expectations. That's why the European financial services provider has made a firm choice to look further and to assume even greater responsibility. In this way, Fortis aims to help meet the challenges currently facing the whole of society. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been solidly embedded within the organisation. "The Executive Committee decided in December to adopt worldwide carbon neutrality with effect from the beginning of 2007," says CSR General Manager Eric Bouwmeester. "A far-reaching programme has been introduced to save energy, buy green electricity and to offset any residual CO2 emissions. We are also fully committed to our carbon banking operations - a field in which Fortis is already a leader - and we will expand our financing of renewable energy projects. At the same time, Fortis is developing a policy geared towards combating climate change. We are studying our global impact in terms of CO2 emissions, together with the risks and opportunities associated with our lending, insurance and investment activities.[3] Fortis offers a wide range of specific sustainable products, varying from cheaper loans for less polluting vehicles and homes, to 'clean car' insurance and sustainable investment funds." Fortis Investments, meanwhile, has developed a website devoted to sustainable development. Amongst other things, it allows you to calculate your own ecological footprint. For more information, see

Fortis is an international financial services provider engaged in banking and insurance. We offer our personal, business and institutional customers a comprehensive package of products and services through our own channels, in collaboration with intermediaries and through other distribution partners. With a market capitalisation of EUR 44.6 billion (31/03/2007), Fortis ranks among the 20 largest financial institutions in Europe. Our sound solvency position, our presence in 50 countries and our dedicated, professional workforce of 60,000 enable us to combine global strength with local flexibility and provide our clients with optimum support. More information is available at

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[2] According to the Journal of Industrial Ecology, these three elements account for 70-80% of CO2 emissions and environmental damage.

[3] An umbrella policy taking in carbon neutrality, Fortis's Environmental Statement and membership of the UN's Environment Programme Finance Initiative and Global Compact Initiative. The policy and the survey are both based on the reality of energy supply and demand, so that the energy sector can rely on Fortis's lasting commitment.

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