Led by founder and CEO, Willem Vriesendorp, #SustainablePublicAffairs is the world’s most sustainable public affairs consultancy, and the first of its kind to be a certified B Corp. Centred around its mission to raise the bar on environmental policy, it does so by lobbying to make the performance of sustainable frontrunners in a specific sector the norm for all other actors. This, in turn, fosters policy-driven growth for those out-performers, his clients.
Acclaimed by Politico as one of the most influential men in Brussels, we speak to Willem to learn more about #SustainablePublicAffairs and how he has radically transformed the way public affairs is done, bettering the world one case at a time.
What lobbyists such as #SustainablePublicAffairs choose to promote has consequences for society. That is why it exclusively takes on cases that are dedicated to having a positive impact on the environment. It is the first and only public affairs firm to do so.
Willem Vriesendorp himself is a qualified lawyer who graduated in the Netherlands and gained vast experience by working with Allen & Overy in competition and antitrust law. From there, he moved into public affairs, specialising in competition and environmental issues. He was also a partner with FIPRA International, where he was co-head of the competition practice and head of the environment practice. This all set Willem up well to take on sustainability policy through his own practice.
“Public affairs is an important part of democracy,” Willem begins. “People that write the laws do not often have time to go completely in-depth into the intricacies of how law actually affects corporate life, or society for that matter, and therefore, I think lobbyists fulfil an important role in society to try and spell that out to policymakers.
“However, this “Swiss cheese” is currently being filled up by the voices out there that have deep enough pockets to get their voices heard: the incumbents, the companies that form part of the status quo. And the only thing that they want is for regulation to stay the same, or to diminish in terms of environmental ambition. So, today’s democracy is confronted with a very skewed playing field.”
#SustainablePublicAffairs works to level that playing field for sustainable frontrunners, with its lobby working hard to help create a society that rewards sustainability. In doing so, the firm abides by three core values of positivity, integrity, and autonomy, without which it believes sustainability couldn’t exist. In line with these elements, it has been extremely careful in curating a portfolio of clients who are indisputably sustainability leaders in their respective industries – who outperform current sustainability norms.
With an extremely knowledgeable team, their expertise runs deep into sustainability policy across the board: from sustainable finance, to electrification of transport, energy storage, renewable energy, agri-food, hard-to-abate sectors, and circular. But their expertise does not stop there. #SustainablePublicAffairs are specialists in campaigning. They know how to be the ear of the relevant policy makers in Brussels, which is a noisy place.
“Our brand is for companies that are already outperforming EU environmental legislation, so we are well beyond what is required at EU level in terms of sustainability. We work for them to try and raise the bar on those regulations so that ultimately their performance becomes the norm for the rest of the industry. And only then will they be able to transform their sustainability leadership into a competitive advantage.”
Willem tells us that he missed brand value in the public affairs industry. Most public affairs consultancies have names that are acronyms, and it is hard to tell what these companies stand for. Maybe that is done on purpose to be able to serve all sorts of client, but Willem saw the need to establish a brand you can trust, a brand that his clients would be proud to wear on their sleeves. He always thought of #SustainablePublicAffairs as “The Patagonia of Public Affairs”. Three years later, the brand has been established successfully and his clients are indeed proud to work with #SustainablePublicAffairs and show it. “Our clients want our t-shirts because they are just proud of being associated with the brand. It tells the world about who they are and the cause they’re working on. It’s a stamp of approval for the sort of cases we’re onto, that they’re onto.”
Public affairs is ultimately a people’s business so the team plays the key role in the outstanding reputation that #SustainablePublicAffairs has built up among clients and the outside world. Willem tells us, “We’ve been able to get the best people in the market to work with us, leaving big firms to come and work for us. Talent of today, we think, is no longer motivated by only money. They’re mainly motivated by purpose. And with the best consultants in Brussels, we can also give the best advice and build the most innovative campaigns.”
“In our view, #SustainablePublicAffairs’ has created the new standard for the PA industry. Not only because of their green mindset. We mostly appreciate their hands-on and pragmatic approach towards creating positive impact in Brussels.’’Joost de Kluijver – Founder and Director.
In Willem’s closing comments, he explains how he has re-invented public affairs. “I believe we should be careful not to be lured into doing what every client tells us or wants. We are in a privileged position and what we chose to lobby for has real world consequences. So, dare to think critically and be autonomous – only that is ultimately sustainable.
“#SustainablePublicAffairs is autonomous. In my dreams, I sometimes see it as a “big beast”: a self-standing actor with a purpose to raise the bar on environmental legislation. It is cared for by our colleagues. It is fed with clients. They give the beast more punch, more strength, more mass, more velocity – which is then again to the direct benefit of our clients.”
He adds, “That is a different approach than just waiting at your desk until a case comes in, changing like a chameleon from green to brown to grey to whatever the client wants, and then try to give advice on that basis. That is the service industry as it was – providing services to whomever comes into your cabinet – and I think that is now the past. The future is for those people, good or bad, red or blue, black or white, that have an opinion and are out there to say, “This is what I am, this is what I’m doing”.
“In my case, I want to get out front and do what is right.”