Talks that Matter - meet Thomas Hügli, Chief Sustainability Officer at AXA Switzerland

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

Thomas Hügli is also President of the Board of Trustees of the Swiss Climate Foundation

What is your background in CSR, Social Impact, Sustainability, and/or Communications?

I can look back on 25 years of communication experience as deputy editor in chief of a financial publication, co-owner of a PR agency, and Corporate Responsibility and Communications Manager in major companies. I am especially enthused about sustainable and alternative business models, climate change, biodiversity, ecosystem services and restoration and corporate narratives. Education: Bachelor’s degree in Social and Economic Sciences and a Master’s degree in Responsible Management.

What do you do at your organization in terms of CSR/Social Impact/Sustainability, how do you monitor and report (non-financial reporting) the outcomes and what are the goals?

Our team is responsible for the company’s CR strategy which involves focusing on the corporate purpose and looking at how we can contribute to a sustainable society now and in the future. At the same time, we are trying to call for clear stances on sociopolitical issues in the company and overlook how we communicate them. We ask customers and non-customers each quarter if they regard AXA Switzerland as a company that integrates environmental issues as well as ethical and social aspects into its business activities. This question is part of our management objectives that measure the company’s success.

What do you think does a business/organization/foundation need if it wants to start introducing CSR/Social Impact/Sustainability practices?

Ideally, sustainable management aspects should already be visibly integrated into the corporate purpose. This DNA approach is a clear outward sign and a strong inward motivating factor. It’s also important to have a CEO who is credibly committed to a sustainable business model and takes a stand with the company’s various stakeholder groups. A CEO who, as a Swiss bioethicist once said, first thinks about the next generation of children rather than the next annual general meeting.

Do you feel that differentiating yourself through impact has brought an added value to your business and reduces risks? In what way?

Public sector customers in particular - such as towns, cities or administrative authorities - place great emphasis on the existence of sustainable products, services, or procurement guidelines when choosing their business partners. Our sustainable commitments and offers in this regard ensure that these customers do not, already on the outset, exclude us as a provider when we bid for major insurance portfolios. In addition, the decision to no longer invest in the tobacco and fossil fuel industries reduces health and climate risks and thereby contributes to a healthier and better insurable future.

Do you see a change in behavior in your consumers?

As with political elections and referendums where environmental and social issues play an increasingly major role, more and more customers are also asking for clear answers on these topics from their insurer. For example, we see this in the pension fund business where an increasing number of insured members wants to know what our policies are for investing the entrusted assets, and, for example, which sectors or topics are excluded and which are not.

How do new technologies and this digital age influence your work? Do you use new technologies to spread the word about what you do?

Social media accounts and the opportunities they provide are breaking out of the straitjacket of classic and “controlled” corporate communication - this means that facts and opinions on sustainable development can be disseminated rapidly at any time. The targeted, dialogue-based, and relevant exchange of information and opinions is easier, and the technology supports the establishment of functioning and powerful networks like never before.

In your view, what’s the biggest challenge when it comes to marketing CSR/Social Impact/Sustainability efforts to the world in a more active way than merely through your sustainability report?

The company is faced with the challenge of propagating sustainability topics that compete with the traditional marketing agenda. And outwardly, we must accept the desire and pressure from the public for more sustainable proof, while at the same time showing that the journey is the reward and that we as a company are willing to keep on improving.

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