Interview with Werner M. Bahlsen.
Werner M. Bahlsen: As a matter of principle, a company must always undergo change and evolve in order to survive. And when celebrating your 125th anniversary, you must do a lot to stay young. The two of you, Ms. Brosius and Mr. Roszak, are good examples of our young up-and-coming talents which will accompany Bahlsen into the future.
Niklas Roszak: I have been with Bahlsen as a trainee for one and a half years now and will be graduating this year. I can tell you that I've learned a lot, even beyond the actual contents of my training. For example, I was directly on site, meaning directly with the production and very close to the production machinery, which is of course very exciting. Next, I will have the opportunity to join a supplier on his rounds. The trainees from the second year of training will then head out to a producer or supplier and can take a look behind the scenes.
Laura Brosius: Same here. I have been with the company for nine months and during this time was able to learn about a broad spectrum of activities. I was able to work independently and assume responsibilities. As a job starter, this is just great. What equally impressed me are the short decision-making channels. If you are directly involved in everything it is much easier to assume responsibility and look beyond the limitations of your own department.
Niklas Roszak: I can easily see myself working for Bahlsen later on. But first of all, I would like to expand my academic knowledge further once I have completed my training. I hope to have more opportunities to evolve as a result.
Werner M. Bahlsen: I agree with this only to a certain point since new possibilities and opportunities continuously open up at Bahlsen. If you are aiming for a university degree after your training there is certainly the possibility to discuss available options with regard to combined studies. We are open to those kinds of solutions; after all, as a company, we depend on motivated and qualified junior staff.
Werner M. Bahlsen: It is quite a challenge to convince each and every one of an idea and to mobilize them. But we gladly accept this challenge. Here, too, we place our hopes on our trainees and young employees: We train them as sustainability ambassadors who bring their perspective on the subject to the company. In the meantime, sustainability has also become part of our further training program.
Niklas Roszak: For me as an employee it feels as if sustainability already enjoys quite a standing at the sites and continues to grow even more. There they pay the utmost attention to avoiding waste. This directly integrates each employee working in production into the sustainability process. Even small things can add up to have a major impact - such as signs on light switches that remind you to turn off the light when leaving the room.
Laura Brosius: I eat every day here at the head office's canteen and I must say it's really extraordinary. The canteen offers largely regional and seasonal products.
Werner M. Bahlsen: The idea for the canteen was this: We expect quality work from our employees since we produce quality products. Consequently, we have to offer them good food in return even if the cost of this is slightly higher compared to standard offerings.
Werner M. Bahlsen: From my perspective, it is implausible to propagate sustainability and then make decisions that do not coincide with this principle. The managerial level must fully stand behind this topic. It must set an example in relation to sustainability and integrate it into decisions even if this is more costly at that moment in time. Maybe it is easier for employees working at the sites to relate to this since they handle raw materials. Employees working primarily in the office may find this concept more difficult to grasp. But even at the head office, we consume energy, water and paper. It is possible to achieve even more here by demonstrating to employees how to save by providing specific examples.
Martina Fleckenstein: Over the past years, Bahlsen has dealt intensively with the issue of sustainability and taken specific action, such as in the certification of cocoa. We greatly welcome this. Moreover, Bahlsen advocates transparency in relation to the procurement of raw materials. For example, Bahlsen's decision to not use any eggs produced in cages is a good and vital step, but it would be even better if it were guaranteed that chickens are fed with local feed or non-GMO soy feed only.
Werner M. Bahlsen: I consider this point to be vitally important. As a company, you are responsible for the sourcing of your raw materials. It is up to you to obtain information in order to gain genuine insights into the production, directly on location. My employees and I regularly visit the cultivation areas for cocoa and palm oil. Does this mean that we can be one hundred percent sure that everything is clean and fair? Surely not - but that does not release us of our responsibility to involve ourselves directly and learn about the situation on location.
Martina Fleckenstein: When still in Germany, it is always easy to say that we cooperate with small farmers. In practice, things are much more difficult. Longer supply chains are involved in between and the local structures are also difficult. But in principle, our expectations have been met. We visited a project that seemed ideal for a cooperation. Moreover, we made the acquaintance of an excellent and reliable partner in Malaysia, Wild Asia, jointly with whom we will now try to locate suitable small farmers.
Martina Fleckenstein: From our perspective, conflicts always arise when trying to identify new areas for the cultivation of palm oil. Quite often licenses are issued without having previously checked whether valuable habitats, such as for the orangutan, are affected or whether areas are identified for the production which to date were used by the local population to grow crops and consequently, produce food. The WWF therefore advocates that local communities be included in the creation of land use plans and that data about rare species of animals or valuable habitats are taken into consideration.
Martina Fleckenstein: Because the growing use of palm oil contributes toward the clearing of tropical forests, the WWF initiated a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004. The various members are either involved in many different ways in, or are affected by, the production of palm oil: palm oil producers, traders, consumer goods manufacturers, banks as well as NGOs like WWF and Oxfam. The aim of the roundtable is to move as many parties as possible toward complying with minimum standards. The RSPO is therefore not an eco-label. It signals that plantations voluntarily do more to protect nature and human rights than is mandatory by law. In developing and emerging countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, this is a crucial first step. But even in Germany, a mere 30 % of imported palm oil or palm oil that is used is certified. The large volume that remains is used without vouching for compliance with minimum standards. And regardless of the criticism the RSPO faces, not doing anything at all is not a solution either. Moreover, half of the certified palm oil to date is not even sold. This is an argument which producers continue to reproach us with when we try to assert stricter criteria. A first step in Germany is the Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil (FONAP = Forum Nachhaltiges Palmöl) which was called to life by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ = German Society for International Cooperation), the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL = Bundesministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft), as well as WWF and various companies. Bahlsen is a vital and active partner here.
Martina Fleckenstein: We just launched a study on this subject. To produce the same quantity of oil, soy plants, for example, would require an area six times larger than what palm oil plants need - not only would this shift the issue to other areas of cultivation but also, due to the greater land requirements, it would aggravate it. This is why for us, the most important approach lies in ecologically compatible cultivation. And what one must always keep in mind with regard to palm oil: growing it is a means of subsistence for many farmers and secures jobs.
Laura Brosius: I definitely do, no matter the domain. Whether eggs produced in a cage-free environment, or vegetables, or even the meat that I buy. I firmly believe that with the knowledge available to all of us today, it's impossible to ignore this.
Niklas Roszak: Personally, I also pay great attention to what I buy. When talking about biscuits in particular, I think it's a good thing that Bahlsen is changing over to certified products for its key raw materials. After all, I consider the preservation of nature as well as animal protection extremely important.
Werner M. Bahlsen: For Bahlsen, the process of sustainable management is not completed by achieving a certificate. We take an integrated approach to this process and know that it is a continuous one. There are still plenty of other raw materials that we have not as yet dealt with as extensively as we have with cocoa or palm oil. We intend to develop this further, step by step. And even when it comes to our own products, we continue to learn just as much in relation to consumer behaviour or dietary habits. Our approach in all of this is to look where it might hurt and to specify inconsistencies, if there are any. In doing so our goal is to maintain our credibility as a company. Sustainability is a learning process and we are still far from reaching the end.