VW Leader on Accelerating in Midst of Crisis

Korea Joongang Daily/KIM JEE-HEE

“It takes a crisis for big companies to change direction,” says Georg Kell, chairman of VW’s international Sustainability Council, which began in September. [PARK SANG-MOON]

“It takes a crisis for big companies to change direction,” says Georg Kell, chairman of VW’s international Sustainability Council, which began in September. [PARK SANG-MOON]

“Crisis is an accelerator for change,” says Georg Kell, chairman of Volkswagen’s two-month-old international Sustainability Council, set up to counter the automaker’s tainted reputation after its widespread emissions-rigging scandal.

When he sat down for an interview on Dec. 2 at the Conrad Hotel in Yeouido, southwestern Seoul, he seemed excited. “I personally really like crisis,” he said.

Volkswagen has undertaken radical moves such as dismissing 30,000 staff members and replacing them with IT engineers, aiming for a rapid shift to electrification and digitization of transportation. The carmaker also plans to build a battery plant in Germany, which would be a first in the country.

“It takes a crisis for big companies to change direction,” Kell said. “The CEO of Volkswagen actually put it quite nicely during one of the internal discussions. He said, ‘Look, we would have done this change probably anyway in five or six years’ times but because of the crisis we are now forced to accelerate. The more I think about it the better it is, because if we prepare the future then it actually makes sense to start earlier.’

“So it [the sustainability council] is a serious organization.” 

The council launched in September as an immediate reaction to recover from the automaker’s emissions scandal and to “critically and destructively engage with CEO leadership on the issues of climate change and related governance issues,” Kell says. Among nine experts invited to join, Kell was appointed to lead the group for his long career of pursuing sustainability management. 

He is the founding director of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative, launched in 2000, and is now Vice Chairman of Arabesque Partners, an Anglo-German asset management firm that integrates environmental, social and governance data with investment strategies.

Every year since 2001, Kell has been named among the “100 Most Influential in Business Ethics” by Ethisphere Institute, an Arizona-based organization that defines, measures and promotes corporate ethics.

“Within the corporate world, over the last 20 years, step-by-step changes have been introduced. Many companies are still slow and very early in the learning curve but … more and more companies luckily realize that we have to move towards low carbon, resource efficiency is a good thing and that treating your workers well actually makes sense to build a positive brand, positive engagement,” Kell says.

Sustainability, in his terms, means a “business is fully conscious in how they impact the lives of people and the natural environment.” Until recently, businesses lacked sustainability, as there was little understanding of how the world is small and we are all connected, according to Kell.

“On average, companies which perform better on environment, social and governance outperform companies that are not doing very well [in those factors.],” Kell said. “This is a fundamental game changer because it means … those who are lagging will be punished indirectly by the market.”

As for Volkswagen, while it has long been a popular brand in Korea, its market share in the local import car market halved to 7.09 percent in October from 14.67 percent last year, while Audi also fell from 13.34 percent to 8.62 percent, according to data from Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association. 

When asked to assess how Korean companies are doing in sustainable management, he said, “Korean companies are actually, by global comparison, fairly strong on a number of issues, where they seem to be lagging behind is a little bit on the governance issue, which is a critical one in many countries.”

According to Kell, Korea is very strong in environment and resource efficiency thanks to highly developed tech industries. Social aspects are partly strong as there is “very high level of self-education and social cohesion.” Korea needs to develop in governance and information disclosure issues, he said.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr

Volkswagen pumps €20m into Sustainability Council and low-carbon aspirations

edie newsroom

The company’s recently established Sustainability Council elected founding director of the UN Global Compact Georg Kell to act as chair as Volskwagen set its agenda for future planning related to emissions reductions at the Council’s inaugural meeting on Monday (24 October).

Die ewig Unterschätzten - Performance von nachhaltigen Geldanlagen

Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Investoren, die nachhaltige Anlagen links liegenlassen, begründen dies oft mit der Sorge, auf Rendite verzichten zu müssen. Die Fakten sprechen eine andere Sprache.

English translation of the first paragraph:

Investors who ignore sustainable investing often justify their actions with a concern that it might not yield returns. The facts clearly prove otherwise. Businesses increasingly pay attention to ESG issues and good governance. This is due partly to a genuine belief that these are important factors for success, and partly due to increasing outside pressure. Investors as well as the general public are becoming more aware of aspects other than financial figures or conventional reporting. Moreover, regulatory changes guide corporations toward more sustainable behavior.

'A Quiet Revolution' On Green Finance With China Taking The Lead

by Dina Medland, Forbes

Leadership stared us in the face via a video-link to China at a global conference on responsible investment held last week in Singapore,  ranked second recently in a list of global finance hubs.

Dr Ma Jun, Chief Economist at the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), giving a Keynote Address on efforts at establishing a ‘green’ and sustainable financial system, quietly mentioned that China is moving towards mandatory disclosure of environmental information by companies.

Georg Kell, vice-chairman of Arabesque Partners, was founder and Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative, for 15 years. He spoke about the importance of listening to the needs of what he called Generation S – for ‘sustainability – the millennials, and listening to what they value. 



Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia and founder of UN Global Compact open Responsible Finance Summit



Following the Governor of Bank Negara's address, Mr. Georg Kell, Vice Chairman of Arabesque Partners and Founder and former Executive Director of the UN Global Compact delivered a keynote address to an audience of more than 400 leaders from across the world. Drawing from his experience in developing an initiative to implement universal sustainability principles that now has more than 12,000 signatories in more than 170 countries, Mr. Kell spoke of the need for forge a more inclusive and global responsible finance industry.

Georg Kell named one of 2015's 100 Most Influential People In Business Ethics


Ethisphere Institute, a global leader in defining and advancing the standards of ethical business practices, announced on 7 January 2015 its annual 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics ranking. The honor recognizes not only those who have devoted their careers to furthering better business behavior but also those who understand the impact companies have on improving the world and have made efforts to increase the quality of life for humankind

Founding Executive Director of the UN Global Compact to deliver Keynote Address for Upcoming Responsible Finance Summit

Zawya Thomson Reuters

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - RFI Founation, organizer of the Responsible Finance Summit, is excited to announce that Georg kell, now Vice-Chairman of the world's first ESG quant fund, Arabesque Partners, and founding Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, will speak at the Summit hosted by  Bank Negara Malaysia.