Interview with Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Plischke
“Sustainability opens up new business opportunities”
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Plischke, member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG responsible for Innovation, Technology and Environment and for the Asia/Pacific region
Bayer has performed relatively well in the global financial and economic crisis and, in the difficult environment of 2009, was even able to achieve the company’s third-strongest operating result ever. What role did aligning the corporate strategy more strongly to sustainability play in this?
A very crucial one. After all, ideas and action at Bayer have always been focused on long-term success. We have oriented the Group’s strategy to the development of approaches for tackling the major megatrends. This strategy has proven to be the correct one in view of the crisis that now hopefully lies behind us. Innovation is the driving force in our sustainability-focused corporate strategy. We consider the development of viable solutions for the future as a duty and an opportunity. This long-term approach is a key aspect of sustainability.
What part can employees play in your opinion?
Our employees naturally have a key role to play. Without their innovative strength and motivation, our strategies would be doomed to fail. That’s why it is so important to support both – for example by enabling employees to share in the company’s success or stepping up activities in the fields of occupational safety and health protection and introducing measures to deliver a sounder work/life balance. We are thus committed to a responsible human resources policy that results in us attracting the best and most innovative employees to the company and retaining them. If we manage this, each of our over 100,000 employees will then act as ambassadors for our company.
You unveiled an extended sustainability strategy in November 2009. What does this involve?
First off, I feel it is important to build on what we have already achieved. For there is one thing we are proud of: sustainable development at Bayer has a long tradition, our commitment here is acknowledged globally by many stakeholders. But we don’t want to and won’t rest on our laurels. Our updated sustainability strategy is based even more firmly on our core skills and our portfolio. We have used global trends and the resulting challenges as a starting point and are focusing our commitment on three key areas – health care, nutrition and protecting the climate and resources. Our areas of activity in eight international lighthouse projects currently show how Bayer can harness its expertise to make effective contributions to sustainable development.
What form do these contributions take?
Let’s take food as an example. The demand for food will continue to rise, whereas agricultural land will decrease in area. What’s more, the progression of climate change is threatening crops and harvests, due to factors such as extreme weather conditions and growing populations of harmful insects in certain regions. Sustainable agriculture will only be possible in the future through the integrated use of crop protection agents and innovative seeds…
…but it will also need to be able to feed farmers in those regions.
Indeed. And that’s why we have launched a program to champion a new cultivation method in Indonesia – where over 40 million people live from the staple food crop rice – that aims to achieve sustainable improvement in the crop yield and income of the country’s rice farmers. As part of its integrated approach, Bayer is supplying the requisite sowing machinery along with expertise and crop protection agents.
Sharing knowledge and experience is also at the heart of your Food Chain Partnerships concept. How do you proceed here?
Food Chain Partnerships bring together all players in the value added chain – i.e. those involved in the production, processing, transportation and sale of food. This concept also forms the basis for our lighthouse project in Indian vegetable cultivation. We support local and sustainable farming structures with the aim of ensuring that consumers get the best quality. At the same time, the Indian farmers improve their income. It’s a partnership that benefits everyone.
Partnerships seem to be becoming increasingly important for Bayer.
Absolutely. We are entering into partnerships in the most disparate of fields. This can be seen, for example, in our dealings with various players in the business world. In our view, these should always have a partnership-based character. And we are thoroughly committed to partnership-based collaboration to help achieve solutions together.
Could you give us an example?
Let’s take health. The major challenge of delivering global health care can only be overcome through partnership. Our alliances for sustainable health care address this head-on. For instance, as part of our “Family Planning” lighthouse project, we work closely with partners such as the German Foundation for World Population (DSW) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In Africa, we have joined forces in launching contraceptives onto the market at prices that are affordable for the local population. And in the World Health Organization (WHO) we have a strong partner in the fight against neglected diseases.
In the light of climate change, many people strongly associate sustainability with emissions and responsibility for the environment. How do you carry through this responsibility?
Although we already reduced our absolute greenhouse gas emissions in the Group by 32 percent between 1990 and 2005 through a whole raft of measures, we have now set ourselves new ambitious targets. In the Bayer MaterialScience subgroup, for example, which is responsible for around 80 percent of Bayer’s energy consumption, we have committed to reduce specific emissions by a further 25 percent by the year 2020. We also want to control the use of resources even more effectively. We are therefore currently testing our Resource Efficiency Check in pilot projects. The aim here is to identify steps in the production process and processing procedures that can be used to further enhance the resource efficiency of, for example, starting materials, water and solvents.
But can Bayer products also be of direct help in conserving resources?
Definitely. Bayer MaterialScience offers numerous examples of this. The product portfolio in this field of activity ranges from cutting-edge insulating materials and high-tech films to energy-saving lighting elements, enabling us to play a direct role in energy-efficient design. It is against this backdrop that we also created the “EcoCommercial Building” lighthouse project – after all, 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the energy consumption of buildings. In this project, we integrate all players in building construction and promote the use of construction materials that further reduce emissions.
But this also means sustainable products are important for your business, doesn’t it?
Naturally. Sustainability opens up fresh business opportunities – and we are harnessing these, for example in the development of health care markets worldwide or through research into stress-resistant plants. I am also convinced that demand for sustainably produced goods will increase, just as consumer awareness of sustainability issues will also rise. This continuously spurs us on to bring to market innovative products in all areas of our business that will satisfy this demand. And we are already helping to do this today with our new tool for measuring the contribution that our products make to sustainability.
A number of your sustainability objectives relate to 2010 – what will happen from 2011 onwards?
We’ll be working on two areas. We will continue to offer transparent reporting on our target attainment in the future. And we will formulate new, ambitious goals. After all, we do not consider sustainability a mere passing phase but something that needs to be integrated into our business. We will be rigorous in pursuing this strategy.