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Accelerating transformation

With a modern, communicative and sustainable company headquarters, VAUDE has the best conditions for innovative and productive work.
Photo: VAUDE

If someone damages something, they’re responsible for repairing it: that’s common sense. At VAUDE, we believe that acting with respect for humans and nature is our responsibility, how we understand our values and our contribution towards creating a world worth living in. The modern economic system, however, is primarily driven by financial indicators, be they the calculation of taxes or bonuses or the approval of public orders, loans or funding. This unilateral focus on financial metrics has a negative impact on the environment and the climate alike. Many years ago, we at VAUDE therefore made the conscious decision to draw up an ‘economy for the common good’ balance sheet, in addition to our financial balance sheets. This enables us to take factors relating to responsible business into account, which are just as important and relevant.

From the cause of a problem to its solution

VAUDE manufactures outdoor products. Developing and manufacturing high-performance clothing and equipment for hiking and biking makes us part of the textile industry – a sector which, in some respects, has a truly devastating impact on the environment. The textile supply chain is complex, has countless branches around the globe and harbours all kinds of environmental and social challenges. In our eyes, recognising that, as a company, you’re part of countless problems and dependencies is the first key step in moving away from being the cause of a problem and towards becoming an active contributor to its solution. At VAUDE, this understanding spurred us to take action. We’ve been consistently working towards a sustainable transformation for 15 years and voluntarily developing future-looking solutions in the process. We collaborated with Green Shape, for instance, to draw up our own textile standard – the strictest and most comprehensive in the industry – because there simply wasn’t one before. Over years and years of work, we’ve reached all kinds of milestones, like gradually eliminating controversial PFAS chemicals (which make water and dirt pearl off the surface of high-performance clothing) from our products.

We’re seeing that lots of companies remain unwilling to really get to grips with the problems they’re causing. Often, people stick to their prior convictions, arguing that they’re creating jobs, paying tax and, in so doing, fulfilling their societal responsibility. The principle of voluntary commitment to sustainability is frequently still called for today, but is revealed to be inadequate time and again. For instance, businesses have still not changed their approaches to an extent that would enable the necessary steps to be taken across the board to meet international climate targets. As a result, we believe that clear legislation is required. This could become a key driving force to accelerate the change in our economic system that’s so desperately needed.

Antje von Dewitz is Managing Director of the outdoor brand VAUDE and consistently pursues the sustainable transformation of the company.
Photo: VAUDE
Stephanie Herrling is responsible for sustainability communication at VAUDE.
Photo: VAUDE

The Green Deal paves the way

The European Commission launched its ‘Green Deal’ in 2019, with the aim of making Europe climate-neutral by 2050. Various directives, ordinances and laws have been drafted and implemented since then. Recently, a supply chain act was passed at the European level (along with its German counterpart) and discussions were held on banning environmentally harmful PFAS chemicals, for example. These pieces of legislation can and should have a substantial impact on many companies being quicker to take up green technologies, set their own climate targets and play their role in reaching international environmental goals.

Effective legislation creates clarity

One example drawn from the Green Deal is the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive – or ‘CSRD’ for short. This directive sees the EU set out a uniform framework for sustainability reporting and is intended to shine a light on the impact that companies’ activities have on human rights and the natural basis of life. In turn, this lets consumers learn more about the conditions within which companies, say, are manufacturing their products. Above all, though, this gives companies an insight into the impact of their activities – and, by extension, the opportunity to set out their fields of action and the steps required for their transformations. Of course, this is a complex task, one that entails a high outlay in terms of staffing and costs. However, we believe it’s worth it. If, as a company, you know where your problems are, you can start to tackle them and develop solutions. In the medium and long term, this promotes innovation, boosts your brand image and, in short, is a crucial area of expertise and a vital management discipline if you want your company to remain fit for the future amidst a world fraught with global challenges.

Having the courage to shape change

Many companies see these kinds of rules as an annoyance or a bureaucratic hurdle. And they’ll remain that way, unless you look at them from a positive, constructive perspective and see them as a crucial part of accelerating the shift towards sustainability. This attitude is the only way to facilitate cultural change within companies – and this change is the prerequisite for them to explore the necessary steps from a constructive angle and exploit all the opportunities offered by positioning their company sustainably. Making your company fit for what lies ahead, and, in turn, proactively shaping the future for all of us can become a crucial driver of innovation for new processes, products and business models. It makes you resilient and serves as a source of meaning not just for your own employees, but for your customers, too. In fact, they are expecting this very development. This can nurture a great deal of power and foster a desire to roll up our sleeves and approach the major challenges of our time with vigour. It’s worth forging this path with courage.