Better than Luisa Neubauer? The climate experts on German supervisory boards

Sustainability expertise is still rare on Germany’s supervisory boards. Of all things, it is a supervisory board chairman who got off to a particularly clumsy start who has become a role model.

Do you remember? A good two years ago, Joe Kaeser tried to recruit climate activist Luisa Neubauer for the supervisory board of Siemens Energy. But he was rebuffed – and earned plenty of ridicule and criticism. But in the meantime Kaeser has made up for lost ground, as a look at the board shows.

Sigmar Gabriel, a former environment minister, is not the only member of the supervisory board: two other board members also have strong corporate sustainability expertise. Cuban-born energy manager Geisha Jimenez Williams (60) sat for two years on the supervisory board of the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing.

And her colleague Laurence Mulliez (55) is the full-time president of the British Globeleq Ltd, one of the largest energy suppliers in Africa. The company mainly operates gas-fired power plants, solar and wind farms. The Frenchwoman also chairs the board of directors of Italy’s Voltalia SA, which focuses solely on renewable energies.

Lise Kingo, Barbara Kux – and what else?

You have to look hard to find this kind of expertise on other supervisory boards. Okay, Sigmar Gabriel also oversees Deutsche Bank. At Henkel, the former head of sustainability at Siemens, Barbara Kux, is active. And Covestro has hired Lise Kingo, the former director of the UN Global Compact sustainability initiative (she was previously a manager at Novo Nordisk, thanks for the tip).

But apart from that? Whether it’s Adidas, Daimler or Vonovia – you often look in vain for supervisory board members with proven ESG expertise. Given the fundamental importance of the green transformation, Germany’s supervisory bodies are shockingly poorly positioned in this respect (see this guest article by Ingo Speich in the Handelsblatt).

But it doesn’t have to be a Fridays for Future activist: In the greening economy, there are more and more ESG experts who bring core business expertise and entrepreneurial experience to the table. We are thinking, for example, of managers of sustainability banks, ESG analysis houses or clean-tech companies.

Bridge between old and green economy

The catch: protagonists of the green economy often do not move in the networks of the old economy. And some even deliberately keep their distance – according to the motto: We are the good guys.

But fear of contact will get us nowhere. That’s why bridge-builders are now needed – first and foremost: supervisory board leaders who convince sustainability experts that they should not act as green fig leaves, but as impulse generators.

After his first clumsy attempt, Joe Kaeser has shown that he can build bridges between the old and green economies. That deserves respect. And imitators.