Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


Luxembourg Finance Industry conference (Mar07)

Luxembourg seemed to be one big building site. From the moment I arrived at the station I was stepping through rubble, being diverted around construction workers and looking at gaping holes in the ground. On my brief tour in the town centre I was also struck by the apparent fecundity of Luxembourg citizens as there were a huge number of shops catering for children and pregnancy. But I’ve been told that the average number of children per couple is around 1, which is incredibly low. Perhaps the wealthy pregnant women of Luxembourg are just more inclined than most to splash out on maternity clothes…..

The purpose of my visit was to deliver the key note speech at a conference organised by the Association for the Luxembourg Finance Industry (ALFI), held at the Hemicircle conference centre. Although there were apparently 780 delegates, not much more than half of these actually listened to the speeches – there was a great deal of networking….

I can’t be sure I managed to persuade those who were listening to put the environment far higher up their list of priorities. However, there were numerous questions from the floor, whereas the previous session hadn’t manage to solicit any – and lots of people came up afterwards with great enthusiasm. Also, I’ve since received an email from one delegate that I didn’t meet on the day signed from ‘a fan’! At the lunch following my speech I sat next to the Dutch Ambassador – he was clearly well informed on EU environmental initiatives and what the major challenges were for Luxembourg.

One point a number of people made was that fuel in Luxembourg is 25% cheaper than in bordering countries. Apparently the smallest country in Europe (is that right?) is used by many as a filling station… I think a hike in fuel prices would be a good thing. Although that may be a challenge it may be even harder to convince the finance industry that being proactive about their environmental performance could actually increase profits – it certainly hasn’t done any harm to M&S’s share price!

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