"It’s not a question of asking the questions but of delivering the solutions."
Sustainability affects a wide range of corporate areas and has its special focuses in each. Lutz Rosiepen, Head of Human Resources, Markus Westhoff, Technical Services Siegen, and Konrad Thannbichler, Sales Manager, talk about goals, achievements, and other tasks.
What’s your personal definition of sustainability in your field of responsibility?
Konrad Thannbichler: Sustainability is the result of durable products. There are steel bridges that are as old as the first railroad. And some mineral oil pipelines have already been in operation for a century. Solutions using steel pipe and MSH sections, as offered by Salzgitter Mannesmann Line Pipe, are always geared to quality and hence to a long service life. And another thing is important: At the end of its life cycle, a product should if possible be fully recyclable. And this is absolutely true of steel.
Markus Westhoff: We want to be a high-performance and competent supplier for our customers constantly and in the long term. Above and bey-ond action to ensure occupational safety, we want to actively improve the health of our staff long-term. Energy and other resources are used as sparingly as possible in production, and we want to continually reduce emissions. And, not least, we constantly check what has already been achieved and seek improvements.
Lutz Rosiepen: For me, in the light of demographic change, sustainability in the human resources sector means making skilled personnel available to our company as required at all levels in the long term.
Where do you see Salzgitter Mannesmann Line Pipe on the way to becoming a sustainable company?
M. Westhoff: Not least as a result of growing environmental awareness in society, which is also found in our sales markets, we extended the existing quality management to DIN EN ISO 9001 in 2002 to include environmental management to DIN EN ISO 14001. In 2005, we added the needs of occupational safety and health protection to the established environmental and quality standards and had them certified to OHSAS 18001. From the application of these systems, we have realized that a structured management system is a key precondition for the ongoing improvement of our products and processes. Since 2012, we have also been operating an energy management system conforming to DIN EN ISO 50001. We have meanwhile made the transition from reactive correction to proactive foresight. This results in a sustainable caring approach to the people working at the company and to the environment. And our products and corporate processes have a direct impact on the environment.
L. Rosiepen: We have a long-term approach to our goals in the human resources sector. We meanwhile have ties with numerous schools and universities and are also active at job fairs. In addition to classical training course, we also offer cooperative study programs. The initial training and subsequent upskilling of our staff is also an important factor. However, we have found that new challenges are constantly arising due to changes in the market situation, which means we have to accept that sustainable human resources planning is a process subject to dynamic change.
But we must also be in a position to carry out production with realistic energy and resource prices. Sustainability then is no longer a luxury but the motive force for growth.Markus Westhoff
At the end of its life cycle, a product should if possible be fully recyclable. And this is absolutely true of steel.Konrad Thannbichler
Whether sustainability is possible in the energy-intensive production sectors is doubted and often called into question. How do you respond to such criticism?
L. Rosiepen: By judging sustainability on the relationship between what goes into production and the product’s service life. Steel pipe takes a lot of energy to produce but is also outstanding in terms of its useful life. I can’t think of any more sustainable alternative.
K. Thannbichler: We shouldn’t shy away from international comparisons, as each Chinese steel pipe is produced with higher energy consumption and greater environmental damage than here in Europe. It’s therefore senseless in double respects to penalize pipes produced in Europe with high energy taxes when exported to Asia. On top of the high energy input in the production process, there’s the additional transportation of the pipes to Europe by ship and the return of steel scrap to China’s steel mills.
M. Westhoff: There’s a widely held view in society that energy-intensive companies benefit from tax subsidies and the ordinary consumer has to pick up the tab. The fact is that the legislator has tied exemption from EEG apportionment to continuing improvement in the energy performance characteristics. However, improvements in energy efficiency are precisely the essence of sustainability in the energy sector. In this respect, we believe on the contrary that the energy-intensive companies that satisfy the legal requirements for exemption from EEG apportionment are the very ones that practice sustainability every day.
In view of the international economic conditions, particularly as far as China is concerned, isn’t sustainability a luxury that Germany can no longer really afford?
L. Rosiepen: No, on the contrary. The Chinese themselves are currently having to learn that their growth policy hasn’t been sustainable. Massive environmental damage and impairments for the population are among the consequences. Efforts in the sustainability sector are indispensable in China and more necessary than ever.
M. Westhoff: Salzgitter Mannesmann Line Pipe in particular can benefit from the energy turnaround toward greater sustainability. Some of our R&D activities have long been aligned to sustainability. We offer solutions for the foundation of offshore windparks, to name just one example. But we must also be in a position to carry out production with realistic energy and resource prices. Sustainability then is no longer a luxury but the motive force for growth.
Government and the State help to shape the general economic conditions. In terms of sustainability, would you prefer more or less intervention?
L. Rosiepen: I’d like the importance attached by government to the steel industry to reflect the number of people employed in it. This is where government must make greater efforts to eliminate global restrictions on competition.
K. Thannbichler: In Germany, concrete is usually given preference over all-steel structures for building and bridge projects. This has had a long tradition and starts with the training of engineers and architects. Steel has a poor lobby here. Standards and codes are overly cautious when it comes to steel. In many public bidding procedures, concrete is still the material of choice and steel constructions aren’t even considered. Yet the numerous crumbling concrete bridges dating back to the Sixties and in need of refurbishment ought to have opened the eyes of public clients. Things could be different, for in Britain and the Netherlands, steel enjoys equal status in the building sector. A change of heart in the public sector is long overdue. Over-zealous carbon reduction policy on the local level must not distract attention from the global carbon footprint.
M. Westhoff: Or let’s take EEG apportionment. In connection with the energy turnaround, Germany’s Federal Government is pursuing its goal of raising the share of regenerative energies. This is all well and good, but it ultimately results in the apportionment-financed subsidization of regenerative energy generation, which has meanwhile become detrimental to electricity price trends and is damaging our international competitiveness. Government must find a mechanism that doesn’t burden companies excessively and at the same time provides a sustainable incentive to investment in environmentally beneficial technologies. This general framework must be coordinated across Europe. And it must be immune to global economic upheaval. Nationally, we’re finding increasingly that tasks previously handled by the public authorities have been handed over to industry. The State with its supervisory functions is stepping back and leaving this to private enterprises. This privatization of tasks slows down project handling, wastes resources, and generates considerable costs.
The Chinese themselves are currently having to learn that their growth policy hasn’t been sustainable.Lutz Rosiepen
To what extent does belonging to the Salzgitter Group affect sustainability efforts?
M. Westhoff: Salzgitter AG supports the lively exchange of information between the companies – among other things in the form of cross-company workshops. In today’s information society, knowledge can give us a competitive edge. Sustainable companies disseminate their knowledge.
L. Rosiepen: The problems facing us, such as those due to demographic change, were identified and addressed about ten years ago at the Salzgitter Group. Processes and strategies have been set in motion that support us and help to counter the challenges of the future. We’re benefiting from this.
K. Thannbichler: By participating in industry associations, the Group is also trying to bring its influence to bear on the initiation and shaping of laws, targets, and business conditions on the European level. We at Salzgitter Mannesmann Line Pipe also benefit from this.
How do you set your objectives and coordinate and implement your activities?
L. Rosiepen: To achieve sustainability in human resources, we have to close ranks with senior management and the various people in executive positions. We achieve this by developing, coordinating, and modifying the respective strategies in interdepartmental work groups.
M. Westhoff: On the basis of the performance indicators in occupational safety and health protection, and in the light of energy and raw material consumption, we regularly analyze key areas by investigating the causes of accident hotspots and excessive consumption levels. From the results, we set goals that are coordinated at management level interdepartmentally and across locations. Experts are awarded responsibility for their implementation. Management control lies in the hands of managers who report to senior management.
Where do you currently see the biggest challenges for Salzgitter Mannesmann Line Pipe in terms of sustainability?
L. Rosiepen: As already mentioned, the steel industry is in the throes of major change. The image of the whole industry as an attractive employer could suffer in the long term. Countering this and persuading young job seekers of the benefits and prospects of a job at Salzgitter Mannesmann Line Pipe is undoubtedly one of the current main tasks. But I’m very confident that we shall succeed, particularly thanks to our membership of the Salzgitter Group.
K. Thannbichler: Our employees in sales have to convince our customers every day that they are getting from us not only a better, but also a more durable product. Unfortunately, this is in some cases only possible with higher costs at the start of the product life cycle. Sustainability, particularly from the economic point of view, only manifests itself after 50 or 100 years. It’s therefore all-important to communicate the added benefit that they get from us in the form of better service, such as expertise, personal presence on site, delivery performance, logistical services etc.
M. Westhoff: We have to do everything we can to offset rising energy prices in Germany so that we can hold our own internationally. Against this backdrop, we have to exploit our full creativity in actively shaping the energy turnaround. It’s not a question of asking the questions but of delivering the solutions.