Generali Group focuses on sustainability and rely on SME’s to drive the “green revolution”
04 October 2021
“SMEs are the driving force of the European economy, a fact that is sometimes forgotten when it comes to climate protection. They are a target segment of our Group in the insurance sector”. Gregor Pilgram, Generali Austria CEO and Chief Customer & Distribution Officer in Austria, CEE & Russia Region, stressed SMEs role for the “green revolution” in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung. Pilgram during the Generali SME EnterPRIZE event in Brussels awarded Michaela Reitterer, one of the “Sustainability Heroes” and founder of the Viennese boutique hotel Stadthalle, the eco-hotel designed to have energy zero impact.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are at the center of your campaign. Why?
After the natural disasters occurred this year, we see that we need change. With the SME initiative, we are trying to get the issue across the board, in seven European markets. The basic idea is to support sustainable SMEs with the award and to drive further development in cooperation with local universities. We had an extreme spectrum in the applications, from social enterprises to the Viennese company Revo Foods, which offers salmon from the 3D printer. In fact, plant-based salmon. You can see the potential, away from large corporations.
Do the EU programs for climate protection and sustainable reconstruction focus too much on big industry?
SMEs are doing a lot, but that is not so much in the public eye. In Austria, there are many companies that work in an environmentally conscious way.
Are small and medium-sized enterprises also on board with EU projects like "Fit for 55" or "Bauhaus"? Solar systems on the roof and new heat insulation must also be financially viable, has this all become reality?
I think so, but it takes some time, it doesn't happen overnight. At the end of the day, this also affects the insurance industry, for example in transforming investment portfolios towards green projects, green bonds etc. The world will not change in a year, but it will definitely change in the long term. SMEs are on board and will benefit in the medium term because financing environmentally conscious projects will become easier.
Is the EU's reconstruction program on target?
Yes, it is a way to rebuild the economy and get it moving in the right direction. It is going very well.
Do you expect serious changes for the insurance industry?
I don't expect any major changes, but we are moving step by step in the direction of environment and sustainability. In terms of capital investment, the insurance industry is already strong compared to other sectors, and in terms of portfolios, the trend is towards decarbonization.
Where does Austria stand in this respect?
Austria is very environmentally conscious. The approaches are the same as in the EU, but there is the driving force of SMEs. We cooperate with the Austrian green tech start-up Glacier, where smaller and larger companies come together for climate protection.
But in business there are often two sides, as you can see from the example of the Lobau tunnel in Vienna. There are economic interests and environmental interests that seem to stand in each other's way. Doesn't that always lead to conflict situations?
There can always be conflicts of interest, that is not specific to Austria. The most important thing is to create a fair transition to a climate and environmentally friendly future. In the long run, everyone has the same goals.
There have been a number of extraordinary weather catastrophes recently. What does that mean for the insurance industry, do you have new calculation models now?
We do not expect natural disasters to become fewer. There have been several events in a row across Europe this year, often very localized. The concern about the environment is justified. But this is our business, and it can be managed well with reinsurance. The industry is adapting to the circumstances.
Do you expect an increase in these events?
We don't have a crystal ball either. But we assume that the frequency will increase, to what extent, nobody knows. But one should not be completely irritated by a year like this.
One point in your project is the topic of well-being in the working world. Has much changed during the pandemic?
I don't think the pandemic has brought the changes, but it has accelerated them. We are working intensively on a suitable hybrid working model; the employees are our capital. We are establishing a mix of home office and presence in the offices. This is also good for the environment, there are fewer business trips, fewer journeys to the office. In general, the work-life balance will change positively.