Environment and Sustainability

23.02.20233 minutes reading time

As an entrepreneur, you made environmental protection a corporate goal very early on. Where does your green drive come from?

There was indeed a key event which awakened my interest in this topic. The first Club of Rome report in 1972, ‘The Limits to Growth’, really shook me up at the time. The report showed very clearly that our way of managing business did not take into account the finiteness of our resources. In some of its forecasts, the report may have overshot its mark, from today's perspective. But the principle is correct.

What role do environmental protection and sustainability play in your company?

Environmental protection and social responsibility have been integral components of our corporate strategy since the mid-1980s, since it has always been my concern to run my business in such a way that following generations would not suffer any disadvantage from it. Economic growth can indeed be aligned with the scarcity of natural resources and contribute to social progress at the same time However, it requires long-term strategies

Did you receive any support at the time for your ideas?

When I anchored environmental protection as a corporate goal, several of my colleagues called me a utopian eco-hippie. Today, the topics of environmental protection and social responsibility are ones many companies ascribe to, and many actually live them, too.

Which problems do you see as the most urgent of our time?

The increasing divide between poor and rich countries, overfishing of the world's oceans, over-exploitation of natural resources and climate change. Especially in the fight against CO2 emissions, we have to speed up. Global climate change is a reality and will, if we continue to delay action, pose great challenges very soon. Without decisive countermeasures, the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere will increase by up to 4.5° Celsius. The risks for coexistence on our planet will then no longer be calculable. Landscapes will turn into steppes, and there will be mass migrations and wars over water. Business and politics must face this problem.
As part of ‘2° - German Business Leaders for Climate Protection’ which was created in March 2007 on my initiative, we are therefore supporting the German Federal Government on a national and international level in its successful policies for protecting the world’s climate. Its defined goal is to limit global warming to 2° Celsius, compared to the pre-industrial level.

Have sustainability policies also become an image factor for the business?

There are companies which still confuse sustainable business activity with pure charity. They finance environmental and social projects from profits which they have generated under less sustainable aspects. For these companies, the topic may be an image factor. For me, however, sustainability stands for responsible corporate management. It is a ‘must’ for companies who are serious about taking responsibility for their business activities. All companies that genuinely address this topic increase in their credibility, which also automatically improves their public reputation.

In your view, what are the most important sustainability activities in your group of companies?

  1. Implementing our ambitious Climate Protection Strategy 
  2. Implementing our social standards among suppliers in at-risk countries
  3. Expanding our range of sustainable products
  4. Looking for solutions for social problems as part of our business activity, in the form of helping people to help themselves.

How can you strike the right financial balance, in your opinion, between commercial viability on the one hand, and sustainability on the other?

Sustainable business activity doesn’t just cost money, it also helps to save it. The best example is energy costs, because energy supply and energy efficiency are definitely in the economic interest of companies. We pay particular attention to the sparing use of natural resources such as water, wood and energy – from the supply chain, through to buildings and logistics.

What do you believe is the best approach to make the vast majority of transport methods more environmentally friendly?

Fundamentally: capacity-orientated planning. We also need to slow down freight transportation. This can only be done with the support of consumers. I also think that shifting transportation towards trains and ships, as well as investing in fuel-efficient commercial vehicles and using alternative drive concepts are sensible ideas.

Please name a few innovative examples of green logistics solutions that you particularly like.

I consider environmentally friendly route planning via GPS and full utilisation of freight capacity to be particularly innovative. But I also think that alternative energy generation at the logistics sites themselves, for example by using wood chip-fired heating and photovoltaic systems, is important. In addition, there are many small things that we can do: I’m a fan of alternative engines, which could include courier bicycles in city traffic, for example.

Prof. Dr. Michael Otto as


Prof. Dr. Michael Otto as