Very few Swedish companies have a Sustainability Manager in the management team

Setting a strategy for sustainability and CSR is crucial for companies’ competitiveness today, and the transition to reduced emissions in both the company and in its value chain will be complex. This applies not only to large multinational companies but also to smaller businesses. Companies that have started in recent years have in many cases benefited from running their business in a sustainable way from the beginning, which is noticed and appreciated by the consumers.

To highlight the topic, we talked to Katarina Skalare, who is Chief Sustainability Officer at the real estate company Heimstaden. She has a long background in sustainability and CSR from Astra Zeneca, E.on, and  PwC, among others, but also as chairman of the steering group for Lund’s University’s Sustainability Forum.

When Katarina came to Heimstaden as interim Sustainability Manager in 2018, there was no structured CSR work, but the company had understood that the issues needed to be addressed and that there was a need to keep together customer care, work environment, environmental issues, and energy efficiency at a strategic level.

Her mission was to do a “current situation” analysis and put sustainability in context. The more questions she raised and made relevant, the greater the awareness of the importance of long-term work. Katarina was offered a permanent role as Chief Sustainability Officer with a place in the management team. She enjoyed working with change assignments as an Interim Manager, but the entrepreneurship, the connection to different societal functions, and the opportunity to lift sustainability to a strategic level right up to the owners was an offer she could not refuse.

“Of all the major real estate companies in Sweden, Heimstaden is the only one that has an outspoken Sustainability Manager in the management team.”

Since then, Heimstaden has been growing strongly, among other things through the acquisition of Akelius’ Swedish, Danish, and German property portfolios and the company now has operations in ten European countries.

“In order to attract capital and new investors, structured sustainability work is increasingly important. All partners of Heimstaden Bostad stand for our values and have a strong sustainability commitment, including climate issues, but also our cooperation with SOS Barnbyar aiming to provide a safe home and a good start in life to as many children as possible. We work actively with social issues such as work environment, customer care, and community contribution in the form of conveying housing to the vulnerable as well as with sustainable property management. We have several pension companies as partners because they want to invest in long-term, safe and sustainable investments.”

Today, the entire company is involved in the work, from the owners to managers and employees in all areas of activity in all countries. Data collection and internal sustainability reporting are as important as the collection of financial data and are therefore now handled by Group Controlling. Katarina says that “Sustainability is integrated into all our business areas and processes such as asset management, energy, and investments. My strength lies in raising these issues to a strategic level and linking them to the business model, business strategy, and financial aspects.”

Katarina tells us that there still is a lot of so-called greenwashing (to create a picture through marketing and communication that you work more with sustainability than you actually do), but many large companies work very well with sustainability, but that it can be more difficult for smaller companies. “There are increasing demands on sustainability reporting, which also leads to requirements for subcontractors. It is a big challenge as constantly new questions and risks arise. Many companies have production in low-wage countries and find it difficult to gain insight into how the operations are conducted. The western part of the world has exported some of the problems to other countries.”

Katarina often participates in ESG dialogues (Environment Social Governance) with the financial sector. “They have high demands and expectations for us as a company and on our sustainability reporting. It is quite complex to comply with all new and upcoming legislation in this area and the development of international reporting frameworks, but it also provides great value. It is important to focus on those that are relevant to us. To ensure that our climate goals are in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5° target, we have joined the Science Based Targets Initiative and will send our goals to them for validation. To achieve this, we will invest SEK 5 billion in existing stock. Within the EU, we have the largest emissions in the countries that use coal power and therefore we will invest SEK 3 million in our Czech stock for energy efficiency and switch to renewable energy.”

What was it like to join Heimstaden as an Interim Manager and establish their strategic and operational sustainability work?

It was very exciting, and it felt both mature and brave that they dared to bring in an interim. The responsiveness of the organization was great, and I reported directly to the CEO. As Interim Manager, it’s not really that important who you report to as long as it’s the right person/role, but here it showed that the issue was taken seriously.”

By Jannike Falkman

Jannike Falkman
Marketing Manager

Jannike has eleven years of experience from Executive Search & Interim Management and ten years from PR, marketing and communications. Her latest employment prior to Nordic Interim was with Impact Executives as a Senior Executive Researcher.