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The econsense network quiz dispels myths about sustainability
The topic of sustainability continues to be the subject of intense debate. Critics uphold the idea that corporate initiatives to protect the environment, contribute to society, or manage employees responsibly are expensive and largely useless.
With a new online quiz at www.econsense.de/onlinequiz (in German), the econsense Forum for Sustainable Development of German business aims to show how companies benefit from pursuing ecological and social targets in addition to doing business. With questions from different areas of business practice, the interactive quiz offers surprising insights for anyone interested in sustainability and the ways in which initiatives are implemented. As a member of econsense, Bosch supported the quiz's development and is making an active effort to demonstrate the economic and social relevance of initiatives that aim to achieve sustainability.
Econsense was founded in 2000 as an initiative of the Federation of German Industry (BDI). Bosch is one of the founding members. The network of companies aims to promote sustainable economic development and a commitment to social responsibility. The network currently counts 35 members, all of which have global activities. Over the years, econsense has become an important partner for actors addressing the topic of sustainability in politics, science, and business.
More information can be found at www.econsense.de
Each year, up-and-coming Bosch executives support non-profit organizations with their good ideas.
One of them is Sun-Mi Choi. Last year, the 28-year-old joined a Bosch career development program that prepares talented up-and-coming executives for leadership roles within the company. At the end of June, future specialists and managers convened at Bosch locations in Gerlingen-Schillerhöhe, Zuffenhausen and Bülowbogen to present the results of their practical project work on the topic of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Sun-Mi Choi's team organized a summer party to attract new customers for Café B21. The Leonberg café is part of the Atrio workshop for people with disabilities. It aims to serve as a meeting place for people with and without disabilities.
"Our aim was to raise awareness about inclusion among people without disabilities, and to encourage them to come by more often," says the Bosch associate, who works in marketing and sales. Together with her team members, she came up with the idea of putting works of art that were created at the Atrio art workshop on display at the summer party. The exhibit served as an icebreaker that encouraged guests at the café to strike up conversations with the artists.
Six other Bosch teams worked on projects that aimed to encourage social interaction within the community. For instance, the up-and-coming executives developed a concept to promote a new family center in Gerlingen, a town near Stuttgart. At the same time, another team helped the town's civic foundation enhance its public image. To this end, the Bosch associates developed a communication strategy with an elaborate schedule of activities.
The Bosch career development program includes events that encourages young associates to take on different perspectives and address CSR-related topics in a practical manner. Sun-Mi Choi is convinced that taking part in social projects has a positive impact on her own approach to leadership. "My team was made up of seven associates from a broad range of areas at Bosch. In order for the team to succeed, I first had to understand how the others worked," says Sun-Mi Choi. "And the feedback that we received from our customer Atrio showed that a commitment to social issues not only makes sense, it is also satisfying."
Business, politics and associations discussed the significance of corporate social responsibility in companies.
This is an issue that is becoming increasingly controversial in light of the public debate about low wages, corruption scandals, and the unabated rise in CO2 emissions. It is against this background that the 10th CSR forum was held in Ludwigsburg from May 7 to 8, this time primarily looking at the feasibility of corporate citizenship. Over 25 high-ranking representatives from companies, politics, and associations discussed the various aspects – and also the limits – of corporate commitment. The delegates included Dr. Frank Appel, CEO of Deutsche Post, Alain Caparros, CEO of the Rewe Group, and Dr. Peter Terwiesch, CEO of ABB. Franz Fehrenbach, chairman of the Bosch board of management until 2012, laid the foundations of these CEO-level discussions in 2012.
During the opening round, the primary focus was on presenting sustainable corporate concepts and formulating the challenges facing the economy. For example, the energy revolution was used to highlight economic opportunities that are open to Bosch and other companies. These included the immense investments in research that business uses to help drive forward sustainable energy concepts. Nonetheless, efficient products and pioneering concepts can only contribute to the energy revolution when they are accepted by the general population – whether they be energy-efficient products, additional wind turbines, or the newly installed power lines. In other words, when it comes to the feasibility of corporate citizenship, public acceptance is also an important factor.
The approximately 630 conference participants also took advantage of the opportunity to find out about sustainable mobility concepts at the accompanying exhibition. With approximately 40 stands, the fair was not conceived as a product exhibition, but rather as an opportunity for companies to showcase current projects and trends. As promoter of the forum, Bosch presented the “Get eReady” pioneer project there with Bosch Software Innovations. This project examines how and under what conditions companies can move their vehicle fleets to emission-free electric vehicles. As part of the German government’s showcase initiative, an integrated charging infrastructure is also to be set up and analyzed in the “LivingLab Bwe mobil” by 2015. The aim of this project is to create a large fleet of newly registered hybrid and electric vehicles in the Stuttgart region and the districts of Pforzheim and Karlsruhe.
What responsibilities do companies have to society and the environment?
Representatives of business, politics and environmental organizations discussed this question at the 9th International Leadership Symposium on Ethics in Business in Brussels.
The event held in mid-November in the European Parliament in Brussels was hosted by the World Forum for Ethics in Business – an organization based in Belgium that promotes ethical behavior by private companies. The participants included high-ranking representatives of international corporations like BHP, Billiton, IKEA, and Novartis.
They used this opportunity to discuss successful “shared value” initiatives in presentations and workshops. In addition to increasing the competitiveness of a company, these activities also generate added value for society.
In his keynote speech, Bernhard Schwager, who is in charge of sustainability at Robert Bosch GmbH, explained how Bosch is making this a reality. The company invests around half of its R&D budget in the development of sustainable products. These help consumers to save energy, for example, and also account for around 40% of the Group’s sales. In addition, Bernhard Schwager emphasized that the journey toward greater sustainability will only succeed if the issue reaches the very upper echelons of management. Watch and listen to the speech in full above.
Dr. Denner, networking is a major theme in the current Bosch Sustainability Report. Why is that?
DENNER: In today’s world, things are more interconnected than ever before. The global flow of goods, business, and capital means that change is becoming ever faster and more frequent. This creates a complexity that makes it increasingly difficult for individuals to find their way and plan for the future. We often do not fully understand how our current actions will impact on the future. This is equally true for individuals, organizations, and even whole societies.
But that is precisely what sustainable action is about – understanding the link between cause and effect. Both over time and for the world as a whole. The problem is the time delay between action and results.
Could you please give us an example of this?
DENNER: One very serious example is man-made climate change. Before we do anything else, we need to understand how the energy consumption of, say, a production facility or even a private vehicle today will affect the climate in the future – including on the other side of the planet.
Only then can we do the right thing. As private citizens, we can buy vehicles with good fuel economy. As a company, we can invest in optimizing the energy efficiency of production processes and facilities, or develop particularly eco-friendly products that help conserve resources. However, the following principle is absolutely paramount in this – as long as we do not fully understand cause-effect relationships, we should focus on minimizing the potential negative effects of our actions. This preventive approach is advisable when it comes to climate change, for instance.
Is climate change the measure of all things when it comes to the interconnectedness of developments over time and around the world?
DENNER: Alongside global warming, there are other worldwide factors involved that have to be considered when it comes to sustainable development. I am talking about megatrends. And these megatrends are also tightly interconnected with each other. At the center, there is demographic development, which varies greatly from region to region, but will ultimately result in the continuous net growth of the world’s population in the coming years – currently by around 80 million inhabitants a year, the equivalent of the population of Germany. More people mean increasing demands on food supplies and greater energy consumption for development and wealth. These trends in turn have a great effect on global pollutant emissions, which once again reached a record level in 2012.
The fact is, no one can ignore these interactions and their implications any longer. A company of our size, with more than 300,000 associates in over 50 countries – over 150 if you count our sales partners –, certainly can’t. Today, three-quarters of the Bosch Group’s sales revenue is generated from abroad. For this reason, we are well-advised to closely follow and carefully analyze the megatrends that are relevant to us, then draw the right conclusions.
What are the most important megatrends for Bosch?
DENNER: It doesn’t really make much sense to put them in any order, because they are so closely interlinked with each other. Against the backdrop of our business orientation, we focus on globalization and demography, climate, energy, and healthcare. And then there is one more global megatrend that represents something of a convergence point where many trends come together – urbanization.
In ten years, there will be around 500 cities in the world with populations of more than one million. In a good 15 years, in 2030, the UN forecasts that five billion people will be living in urban areas – that means that three out of five people will be living and working in cities. It is easy to imagine the challenges this development will bring with it – for traffic, transportation, logistics, healthcare and education provision, food supply, environmental problems, and many other things. At the same time, urbanization represents a focal point for sustainable, future-proof solutions that all our divisions are working on flat-out.
The topic of sustainability has become omnipresent, particularly in business. Do companies have a special responsibility?
DENNER: The principle of sustainability – that is, finding a balance between our actions today and their consequences tomorrow – is not exactly new, in fact it is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year.
Sustainability is not just another fad that the political establishment and financial markets are looking for businesses to meet. It is a fundamental challenge that the whole of society has to face. One thing is certain – everybody bears equal responsibility, especially because the world is working in ever more interconnected ways and today’s tasks are global.
Does sustainability work as a business model?
DENNER: Sustainable business policy today may sometimes mean that a company initially has to sacrifice short-term margins to engage in advance investments. At Bosch, we are convinced that these investments pay off – not only in the form of social dividends, but also commercially. Household appliances are a prime example. Our decision in 2010 to launch the super-efficiency portfolio of exceptionally energy-efficient appliances was a business decision – not the result of expectations being placed at our door. Today, BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH is a European market leader. This proves to me that consumers recognize serious efforts, and reward them not least through responsible purchasing decisions.
Good deeds are rewarded. As our founder Robert Bosch unambiguously formulated, sustainability for us is a position we take out of well understood commercial interest.
Could you please define the Bosch Group’s position on sustainability?
DENNER: We are resolved to use our technologies and services to improve the quality of life of people all over the world – continuously, measurably, and with a focus on the future. Bosch has stood for this principle since 1886. Today, there is no future without sustainability. That means planning with foresight, recognizing the consequences of your own actions, and working towards securing a future worth living for generations to come. That was how our founder Robert Bosch acted, because he was convinced that a company could only achieve long-term success in a socially and ecologically sound environment. That is why he promoted healthcare, education, and international understanding in his time.
What makes Bosch qualified to roll out sustainability as a business principle?
DENNER: Our four business sectors – Automotive Technology, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology – focus on areas that will be decisive in achieving a sustainable society in the future. Our products and services accelerate technological development capability worldwide. At the same time, they contribute to conserving natural resources, and reduce energy needs and pollutant emissions. This applies to industry and manufacturing, and also to private households. Our “Invented for life” quality promise therefore provides significant value contributions in the here and now – and stimuli for the future.
On what basis can Bosch actually fulfill this quality promise?
DENNER: Thanks to our shareholder structure, we are independent. In times of global business and financial flows, entrepreneurial freedom is of key importance. We can allow ourselves to not only observe and understand global developments and their impact on each other, but also to act accordingly.
The future doesn’t develop in step with annual reports. It is an ongoing process that has to be explored and shaped. We did that in 2012, for instance, when we further increased our already high level of research and development expenditure. We spend 50 percent of our research and development budget on products that are energy-efficient and conserve resources. As a result, we filed a total of 4,800 patents last year with which we hope to help secure a future worth living.
Furthermore, sustainability in a company is also a question of attitude. A values-based corporate culture can only grow by virtue of everybody’s conduct over the long-term. With over 300,000 associates all over the world, we at Bosch can be proud of our special culture. It represents a lasting competitive advantage. We are jointly driven by an overarching goal – creating technology that is “Invented for life”, in the form of products and services that are very beneficial and take the needs of society and the environment into account.