Sustainability + Communication = Greenwashing?

Interview with
Dr. Stephan Middelkamp, General Manager Quality & Technologies
Interview with
Detlef Sieverdingbeck, General Manager Corporate Communication & Branding Mr Sieverdingbeck, when sustainability is mentioned in direct connection with communication, the immediate conclusion is often: Greenwashing! What’s your take on this?

D. Sieverdingbeck: Communication that can be substantiated with concrete examples serves a very meaningful purpose in terms of sustainability. What is important, however, is the direction in which this communication is aimed. In our Technology Group, sustainability communication is primarily directed in-house. That’s because environmental and climate protection is not just the task of one department, but concerns us all! This is the DNA of the company.

S. Middelkamp: In this way, we activate our employees and generate a lot of concrete ideas. We want to motivate our employees to make their contributions to greater sustainability. At the same time, we provide answers to the question: Why are we doing this in the first place, and what is the meaning and the purpose behind this? What is the next step? How is employee motivation expressed?

D. Sieverdingbeck: Responsible and motivated employees get involved and identify with our sustainability goals. They generate ideas independently and improve the environmental performance of their processes – thereby creating entirely different dynamics.

S. Middelkamp: The advantage becomes clear, for example, in the product creation process. Here, the project team must focus on quality, reliability and sustainability, in addition to looking at aspects of manufacturability and costs. These complex relationships cannot be rigidly regulated. We want our employees to carry this mindset within them and find the best solutions on their own and from within themselves - in everything they do.

D. Sieverdingbeck: This closes the circle of communication again. This is where external communication begins, citing concrete examples. And our employees act as testimonials, so to speak. Multiplication in-house and outside of the company. Can you give us some examples of successful communication?

D. Sieverdingbeck: Of course! For more than 30 years, the HARTING Environmental Award, the Harty has been bestowed. All the German locations are evaluated by a jury in the categories of occupational safety, environmental protection, fire protection and order & cleanliness. With the competition specially initiated by our senior boss Margrit Harting, a campaign for cleanliness and order in the workplace, for sustainable action and for avoiding potential dangers and risks began as early as 1989. One aim of the project was and is to make our employees aware of their own responsibility. Sustainable thinking and action require tenacity and perseverance!

S. Middelkamp: This year, as part of our "International Management Meeting", we spent a day together with all the managing directors of our national companies at ZEA Energy (see also article p.14f). Here they learned first-hand about the possibilities of regenerative energy production by visiting the biogas plant. Our senior chief Dietmar Harting had already initiated this plant at the turn of the millennium. Our managers are now taking the knowledge they have acquired and this sustainable way of thinking to HARTING locations around the world, so that our employees can also raise their awareness of sustainable thinking and action.

D. Sieverdingbeck: In addition, for the past three years we have also had our own internal award scheme, the "Dietmar Innovation Award", named after our senior chief Dietmar Harting. Here we honour our innovators and bright minds from all national companies and from now on we are also awarding the prize in the "Sustainability" category. What projects have resulted from this employee motivation?

S. Middelkamp: On the corporate side, we have a good example from Italy: Our national society there has taken on bee sponsorships, supported by the company "3Bee". This is a start-up that develops intelligent monitoring and diagnostic systems for bee health and has already created a network among 100,000 beekeepers in Italy alone. Bee sponsorships, planting a nectar forest and adopting beehives will help to protect this vitally important species.

D. Sieverdingbeck: On the product side, our developers have launched the Han-Modular® Domino modules. Their energy efficiency, more compact installation space and the reduced use of materials earned us a nomination this year for the Hermes Award, the "Oscars for engineers". Norbert Gemmeke, Managing Director of the Global Business Unit HARTING Electric, was also voted "Manager of the Year" by the readers of the "Markt und Technik" trade magazine. For the same reasons: taking sustainability aspects in product development into account while ensuring powerful connectivity at the same time.

S. Middelkamp: Single-pair Ethernet is certainly another relevant example: 40% less copper is used
here and yet simple, inexpensive and robust Ethernet cabling is guaranteed. And what future projects can we expect ?

D. Sieverdingbeck: With our connector concept of the Smart Electrical Connector (SmEC), we have succeeded in taking another significant step in the right direction. This connector is equipped with an active administration shell (AAS - Asset Administration Shell) providing for versatile functional capabilities in communicating with installations.

S. Middelkamp: And this also plays an important role with regard to sustainability: with the integrated Digital Twin it is possible to generate efficiency potentials as well as to record and document the Product Carbon Footprint (PCF).

In addition, we are currently preparing to determine the PCF for products from our range and are working with partner companies and consortia to realise the digital product passport. After all, one thing is patently clear: in the development and production of our products, we all have to take care to conserve resources and avoid emissions to the greatest extent possible. The digital product passport provides us with the opportunity to accurately record the carbon footprint across the entire
life cycle.

D. Sieverdingbeck: And this is precisely where the circle closes again: Communication and sustainability will only work together if you can offer valid content. The fact that communication takes place from in-house to the outside world then provides the appropriate foundation. And it is precisely then that the communication is anything but greenwashing.