5 questions: Zurich North America’s Head of Corporate Sustainability
March 11, 2020
Ben Harper was named Head of Corporate Sustainability for Zurich North America in January. In this new role, he is responsible for coalescing Zurich’s people and capabilities to create innovative solutions that advance the company’s sustainability priorities of workforce in transition, climate resilience and confidence in a digital society.
He recently answered some questions about Zurich’s priorities, his experiences in Risk Engineering and underwriting and how Zurich employees can help the company’s sustainability efforts.
Q: What is your vision for how Zurich North America will deliver on the ambitious sustainability commitments Zurich Group CEO Mario Greco has talked about recently? Will North America focus on the same priorities?
Yes, we will focus on the same sustainability priorities as Group – climate resilience, workforce in transition and building confidence in a digital society. The team has done a fantastic job establishing Zurich as one of the most sustainable global insurers. They have also created a detailed roadmap that will help us deliver on our ambitious commitments.
While much of what we do will align with Group, we also have the opportunity to differentiate ourselves in areas that leverage our strengths. For instance, one of my goals is to develop innovative products that meet market demands. We already offer products with sustainability components, but I see us as the leader in creating a more robust suite of offerings. I also envision integrating sustainability into our everyday underwriting, from evaluating risk to pricing coverage and determining policy terms.
Q: Zurich North America has taken great strides to reduce its environmental footprint. How will these efforts complement its sustainability commitments?
If we are to be a leader in this space, we need to start by looking internally and making changes that reduce our own environmental footprint. And we're doing this. I think the mentality carries over into the way we conduct business. It's also a critical part of the transition to integrating sustainability into "business as usual" activities. We have to recognize the interconnected relationships of risks and how our efforts to manage these risks affect other areas.
Q: You have an extensive background in sustainability and climate-related roles. How will you leverage this experience to achieve your current goals?
I started my career as an environmental engineer. In my early days as a consultant, my focus was on remediating sites that were contaminated as a result of poor environmental management. I have used this experience at Zurich in Technical Underwriting as an environmental and pollution subject matter expert and as a member of the Zurich Climate Office. In each of these roles, my focus was on driving the development of products that support environmental stewardship, including carbon reduction.
While my current role involves improving our environmental performance, it also includes ensuring we're helping our people and other organizations be resilient in today's changing times, which I'm really excited about.
Q: Why is there such urgency around creating a sustainable future for Zurich and across the insurance industry?
It is actually pretty simple – we really don't have the luxury of time to not act urgently. While there may be debate as to what the outcomes of climate change may be in 5, 10 or 20 years, one thing that is not debatable is that things are changing rapidly. For example, we are experiencing a higher frequency and greater severity of storms every year. We are seeing unprecedented risks and, without acting urgently, they will continue to escalate.
And while technology is making our lives easier every day, it is also a disruptor to our current way of working. Jobs are changing and evolving across all industries, including insurance. Therefore, it's important that our employees navigate these changes so they can benefit from them, something we refer to as work sustainability. The key here is to always be learning so we are prepared for future opportunities.
With so many aspects of our world going digital, we not only have the opportunity to help our customers protect themselves from cyber risks, we also have an obligation to ensure they understand our commitment to protect their information. We will never sell their personal data – we will simply put it to work to improve the services we provide them.
Q: What can Zurich North America employees do to help deliver on the company's sustainability commitments?
Stay the course. In terms of reducing our environmental footprint, our employees have done a tremendous job to date. The PaperLess Future Campaign is one example. We're already close to our goal to reduce paper usage by 80%, and I look forward to future progress.
And as I said earlier, adopt a learning mindset. By embracing a willingness to learn, we can all remain relevant in a fast-changing business environment.
Also, be sure to share your ideas. For example, if you have a customer who is asking for products or services to assist them in their transition to a low-carbon society, let's explore what we can do for them. We are not only striving to be one of the world's most sustainable companies, but we also want to assist others in reaching their goals.