Interview with Prof. Wolfgang Plischke
“Sustainability and innovation go hand in hand.”
Prof. Wolfgang Plischke, member of the Bayer AG Board of Management responsible for Innovation, Technology and Sustainability and for the Asia/Pacific region
Professor Plischke, how important is sustainability to an innovation company like Bayer?
I believe that sustainability goes hand in hand with future viability. At Bayer, this is directly connected to innovative strength. Sustainability therefore plays a key role for us as early as the research and product development stages. After all, only sustainable innovations ensure commercial success. And, in light of the rising cost of raw materials and energy, we are able to secure the solid foundation we need through material and energy efficiency in particular, and also through process and product innovation. We want to use our innovative products to help solve key challenges facing our society today, including a growing global population that has to be fed, an aging society that wants to remain healthy into old age, and rising levels of prosperity worldwide coupled with the need to conserve natural resources and improved energy efficiency.
In recent years, society has become much more aware of the importance of sustainability. A wide range of groups, e.g. consumers, job applicants and investors, attach importance to sustainability in global economic growth. They expect us as a company to make a substantial contribution to this goal. And we are working on doing just that – increasingly in cooperation with partners.
How important are these partnerships to Bayer?
Very important indeed. We work with a broad range of partners and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide. That these collaborations are bearing fruit can be seen in a number of areas. As part of our “Access to Medicine” strategy, we are working with various private and public organizations, such as the WHO. Our successful “Food Chain Partnership” programs bring together all players in the food chain, thus helping farmers to increase the yield of their crops while also helping to improve the quality of food available. Our EcoCommercial Building Program integrates all players involved in building construction to make an important contribution to conserving resources in this area. We also cooperate with research institutes and universities, other companies and private and public institutions. In all these partnerships, the various partners bring their specific strengths and expertise to bear, thus ensuring a valuable end result.
Bayer is investing not only in innovation but also in growth markets. What role do these markets play in sustainable development?
An enormous one. Our products help deliver long-term solutions to problems resulting from growth. At the same time, these markets are important for the sustainable development of our business because they offer considerable potential.
But this demands substantial investment.
Yes. We are investing heavily in the growth markets, in staff, production, sales and research. The opportunities are immense, but so are the entrepreneurial risks. The legal and regulatory environment is complicated and the markets are very diverse. For example, political change may mean that a market does not develop as we expected it to. However, our products and solutions are designed to address the change processes triggered by the global megatrends in these markets.
In this context, we also attach great importance to responsible business management practices. Risk management involves a number of aspects: we must keep sight of the long-term development of our company and promote staff development. We must ensure that we meet the relevant legal requirements at all times wherever we operate. We take our responsibility for the environment and products very seriously. We support the protection of human rights both within the Group and throughout the supply chain. We maintain ongoing communication with all our interest groups (stakeholders). Ensuring responsible business management in all areas is essential to achieving acceptance and recognition in society. It represents our license to operate.
Those are ambitious goals. How are you putting these ideas into practice?
By not leaving the focus on our guiding values to chance. Last year we globally introduced our newly formulated value system LIFE, i.e. the values of Leadership, Integrity, Flexibility and Efficiency. This gives every employee a clear and binding set of guidelines to follow. Our values form the basis of our corporate culture but are also an integral part of our management systems. This way, we can be sure that sustainability and innovation at Bayer go hand in hand. And this is the key to our success in the long term.
Does this commitment pay dividends from a business perspective?
Long-term corporate alignment is essential for ensuring a sustainable and reliable partnership that benefits everyone involved. Our stockholders benefit from this strategy, too. The name Bayer has a good reputation in the market for socially responsible investments. There is a common awareness here that our development pipeline is amply filled, that we are addressing the relevant challenges, that we set ourselves ambitious goals and that we are committed to strict standards and values. The trust placed in us by the financial market and the rising demand for good performance in the area of sustainability drive us to follow even more resolutely the path that we have chosen.