You have been Chief Sustainability Officer at Meyer Burger since June 2021 and in this position you are responsible for ESG – Environmental Social Governance. What is the status quo of sustainability at Meyer Burger?
Meyer Burger is 100 percent committed to sustainability on its own merits. For us, it is absolutely clear that sustainability must be an integral part of our company simply because of the nature of our core business. We therefore have a clear goal in mind: we want to implement a coherent ESG strategy throughout the company. To achieve this, we not only want to produce the most sustainable solar modules in the world, but also set new standards as a green company - and this includes the entire life cycle of our products. Part of my job as Chief Sustainability Officer is to ensure that we move step by step in the right direction. We have already reached important milestones, for example with regard to our supply chain, recycling and environmental protection.
How does Meyer Burger define sustainability?
We are guided by the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. They are intended to show companies a concrete way to make their contribution to the global sustainability goals. For example, producing cost-efficient solar cells and modules and improving their accessibility pays directly towards the UN goal of "affordable and clean energy". As a technology leader, we are taking a pioneering role here.
We also promote sustainable economic growth and productive employment, thus supporting the SDG "Decent Work and Economic Growth." In addition, with innovations in the PV industry, we contribute actively on building a resilient infrastructure and we are committed to sustainable industrialization and the development of sustainable cities and communities – UN goals as well.
Meyer Burger stated "the use of given resources for meaningful value creation in our society" as one of its goals in the Sustainability Report. What does that mean exactly?
Meyer Burger is a fixture in the European solar industry. As a company, we not only commit ourselves to acting as ecologically and socially as possible, but also want to enable others to do so. Our vision is clear: We want to enable more sustainable energy generation for the future and make it accessible to everyone. More so we want to do this with an unconditional focus on the social aspects of work and energy. This is our motivation in our daily business.
Many companies are currently sharpening their sustainability activities. It is always emphasized that this must go hand in hand with profitability. Is that also the case at Meyer Burger?
Doing business sustainably and achieving economic success at the same time is a challenging task. In my view, our high-performance modules are a good example of a positive balance between sustainability and economic efficiency. We are continuously improving the energy efficiency of our modules and develop manufacturing processes that conserve resources. We have succeeded in reducing manufacturing costs and the production footprint - a real success of which we can be justifiably proud. For us, it is obvious, that sustainable action is often accompanied by an investment. At Meyer Burger, we believe that this investment - whether in terms of quality, expertise or innovative spirit - pays off in the long term.
Why would an exclusively European supply chain be more sustainable for Meyer Burger?
Currently, we receive goods and services from local manufacturers and suppliers wherever possible and supplement with European and global sources. I am particularly proud of our Hohenstein-Ernstthal site. We take great care to work with local suppliers and have actually been able to source 80 percent of our purchasing volume from the region. We have high expectations of ourselves to create sustainable products. That's why we also have to align our supply chain with producing the lowest possible CO2 emissions and creating transparency about processes and the use of materials. This is particularly successful with European suppliers. One direction we are currently thinking in is inter-European transport of goods by train. In the medium term, we want to expand our European supply chain and pay attention to the diversification of our suppliers. We want to successfully implement such a supply chain and the unconditional principle of circular economy in our business model.
What do you mean by the principle of the circular economy?
A concept of waste-free production inspired by the cycle of nature. The goal is not only to limit the company's negative impact on the environment, but to go even further and leave a positive footprint. The manufacture of products should be safe for people, good for the environment and economically successful. To achieve this, a safe and potentially unlimited cycle of materials and energy must be realized. Raw materials are reused, for example, and waste is limited. The arguments in favor of the concept are obvious: raw material scarcity, ecological and social problems of raw material extraction as well as export dependency, but also increasing conflicts over resources could be reduced in this way. Meyer Burger is committed to the concept and I personally can only endorse it.
In May Meyer Burger opened two plants in Germany. How sustainable are the sites with their production?
Our production facilities in Hohenstein-Ernstthal, Freiberg and Thalheim (Bitterfeld-Wolfen) are powered by 100 percent renewable energy. In addition, we take much account of local conditions. Before commissioning, for example, various tests were carried out at the new sites to protect biodiversity. Basically, we also want to build a strong foundation in the vicinity of our new plants in Freiberg and Thalheim and enter into long-term, constructive relationships with local authorities and communities. For us, this also includes a social component: We are an attractive local employer that promotes sustainable economic growth in various regions in Germany and creates innovative jobs. Working with the people of the region is particularly important to us
How sustainable can a production really be that includes materials such as silver or silicon in its supply chain? What role does recycling play in this?
We are striving for a waste-free production. We have already taken a big step with waste recycling and recycled a total of 121 tons of waste in 2020. In the area of raw materials, we are continuously looking for innovative solutions to further improve our products and reduce our use of raw materials. We work with innovative suppliers from the region to ensure that raw materials are also fully recovered at the end of a module's life cycle. This is the only way to counter the increasing scarcity of raw materials in the long term and stimulate the local economy.
We can point to a number of successes: In the field of indium tin oxide coating (ITO), the use of raw materials has already been reduced by 25 percent. The use of silver is being continuously minimized thanks to technological improvements. In addition, we rely on sustainably produced wafers made from the highest-purity silicon from European manufacturers. We are technologically in a position to work with particularly thin wafers and thus to make significant savings in silicon material here as well. Meyer Burger also avoids hazardous raw materials in the production cycle. With conventional products, for example, it can happen that lead particles end up in the ground. To prevent such risks from arising in the first place, Meyer Burger produces lead-free modules – which is rather seldom in the whole solar industry. So the sails are set for our product – the "cleanest solar modules in the world".
Meyer Burger talks about a "value-oriented" product design. How can this be understood?
As you know, today we are successfully positioning ourselves as a vertically integrated producer of solar cells and modules. This change has allowed us to make conscious decisions about the design of our products. When we were just a supplier, this was obviously not possible. In the end, we had to opt for a make-or-buy decision which was absolutely the right thing for us to do. By producing our own products, we are now able to develop the product design as well. So now we pay particular attention to the balance between the environment, society and the economy. For us, this means, for example, the selection of sustainable materials, full compatibility with our closed-loop concept and a positive ecological footprint, as well as the creation of long-term jobs.
In Meyer Burger's annual report, employee satisfaction is mentioned as an explicit criterion for sustainable value creation. What is this exactly?
As an innovative and sustainable company, Meyer Burger benefits from motivated people who stand behind the company's goals with their own ideas and ideals. We want to offer a working environment that motivates our employees to bring out the best in themselves and to move our company forward together. Especially in these challenging times - after all, we have been through a corporate transformation during the Covid 19 pandemic - we recognize the benefits of a modern, collaborative and safe working environment. To this end, we provide sustainable, innovative workplaces, pay fair and gender-neutral salaries, have responsible workforce management and benefits such as a company kindergarten or a job bike.
Sustainability is also becoming an increasingly important topic for young people. Do you expect any advantages in recruiting?
It is true, we are constantly attracting new talent who want to be part of the renaissance of the European solar industry. At Meyer Burger, they can work professionally on sustainable solutions for one of the most important problems facing humanity and thus actively help shaping the energy transition. That is very appealing to many people, and I am also motivated by this idea myself. A strong team is and remains an important factor for our success. That's why I'm glad that more and more smart young people are choosing meaningful work like at Meyer Burger.
Some companies are just starting to address the issue of sustainability. Why is it worth tackling it?
Only a joint effort by everyone in the context of sustainability can succeed in halting or even reversing climate change. This major task of today's generation needs everyone to succeed. We are also convinced that companies that implement sustainable approaches early on will have a competitive edge. And we can already say from our experience that having a sustainable product on the market means standing out from conventional products, increasing the market value of the goods and leveraging additional innovation potential within the company. I can only encourage every company to deal with this increasingly important topic and to develop solution strategies for any challenges. There are many positive signs in the market - this encourages us to continue on our sustainable path.