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First Word: Industry's global state of affairs

First Word: Industry's global state of affairs

Not that much of a reminder is needed these days, but a few recent items reinforced for me the notion of the global world in which we live, the global nature of this industry and some of the ways all that globalizing manifests itself.

First, as I made my final plans a few weeks back to travel to this month's annual gathering of the International Insurance Society (coverage of which will be included in the next Industry Focus), I was pleased to learn that host city Berlin ranked well down the list of the world's most expensive cities.

The information, from the latest Cost of Living Survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting last month, showed Moscow topping the list of most expensive cities for expatriates for the second consecutive year. Second in the ranking was London, climbing from fifth last year, followed by Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Rounding out the top 10 on Mercer's ranking were Copenhagen, Geneva, Osaka, Zurich and Oslo.

And Berlin? It comes in 45th in Mercer's survey, tied with Abu Dhabi and Dusseldorf.

Mercer noted that 30 of the 50 most expensive cities were in Europe, with the strength of the Euro and other currencies contributing to the higher relative cost of living in most European cities. Due to the dollar's weakness, only two U.S. cities made the top 50--New York, at 15, and Los Angeles, at 42.

Mercer's annual survey covers 143 cities, comparing them on the local cost of more than 200 items including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment. According to Mercer, it's used to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation allowances for expatriate employees.

As a Chicagoan, I was pleased to see that my home city wasn't among the most expensive, apparently remaining a relative bargain among the world's metropolises. I'm aware, however, that such factors as annual increases in beer prices at Cubs games and threatened hikes in mass transit fares may well help push Chicago up the list in a future ranking.

Meanwhile, want to save the company a few bucks on expat compensation? Consider opening a branch in Asuncion, Paraguay. At No. 143, it's the least expensive city in the ranking for the fifth year in a row.

In a similar ranking Mercer released earlier this year, its global Quality of Living Survey, European cities again dominated the list, with Zurich and Geneva Nos. 1 and 2. Vancouver was third, followed by Vienna and Auckland.

This time Chicago did make the top 50, ranking No. 44. That's down from 41 in Mercer's prior quality of life ranking, though, no doubt due to those rising beer prices at Wrigley Field.

Another item that got me thinking globally was the news last month from Munich Reinsurance Co. that the company aims to be "climate-neutral" by 2012. Essentially, Munich Re plans to reduce its per employee emissions of greenhouse gases, and balance remaining emissions with other steps aimed at reducing emissions elsewhere.

The German-based reinsurer, which has offices in more than 50 locations around the world, said its head office in Munich, where more than half of its international reinsurance workforce is based, would be CO2-neutral by 2009.

In addition to reducing per employee emissions, Munich Re said it would use "green" power sources, invest in renewable energies and reforestation, and participate in climate-protection projects in emerging countries.

For a company that has been outspoken about the perceived impact of global climate change--and a company with a bottom line exposed to the effects of that change--doing what it can to lead by example in trying to address the problem is understandable, though no less laudable.