An interview with Christoph Loos, Michèle Frey-Hilti and Peter Rupp
Mr. Loos, everyone is talking about sustainability these days. And Hilti is now also publishing its first sustainability report. Why at this particular time?
CHRISTOPH LOOS: For decades, we have been dealing with issues that today would be considered typical sustainability topics. For example, health and safety have traditionally played a major role for us – with regard to our employees, but also with regard to the users of our products. Or think of the social commitment of the Hilti Foundation – we have also been active in this area for a long time. But in view of the challenges of climate change and the associated social problems, we need to increase our efforts. With our sustainability strategy, we have laid the foundation for addressing our activities even more consistently and comprehensively. And we now intend to report annually on the progress made in implementing this strategy. This creates transparency both internally and externally.
Ms. Frey-Hilti, as a member of the owner family, you want the company to make a profit. Is Hilti able and willing to afford expensive measures, for example for environmental protection?
MICHÈLE FREY-HILTI: Short-term profit maximization has never been the goal, but the long-term development of the company that serves all stakeholders. And of course, that is only possible if we generate the corresponding financial resources. My grandfather, Martin Hilti, used to say, “Profit is not everything – but everything is nothing without profit.” I am convinced that only a sustainable approach to business can ensure our long-term success. And by that, we also mean assuming ecological and social responsibility. We have already reduced emissions and the use of resources in production as far as possible in the past. But as Christoph has said, we are now tackling the issues surrounding sustainability in an even more structured and focused approach.
With our sustainability strategy, we have laid the foundation for addressing our activities even more consistently and comprehensively.Christoph Loos,
Mr. Rupp, you head the corporate sustainability team at Hilti, which was newly established this year, and you are expected to drive change. Previously, you led a business unit at Hilti. How much resistance do you experience from your colleagues, who are now expected to change many things?
PETER RUPP: None at all, actually. On the contrary: I have the impression that we currently find that these doors are already open. And we are not starting from scratch either. There is a great awareness and understanding of sustainability at Hilti. That is why many colleagues I speak with also welcome the fact that we are now addressing these issues in a much more structured way. Because what we have learned at Hilti also applies here: When we focus on something, we achieve a high impact.
What changes should employees be prepared for?
PETER RUPP: We don’t want to do everything differently than before. Our mission statement remains unchanged: We want to build a better future. What will change is that in the future we will consciously incorporate ecological and social factors more strongly into our corporate decisions and actions.
I am convinced that only a sustainable approach to business can ensure our long-term success.Michèle Frey-Hilti,
Member of the Hilti Foundation Board
Mr. Loos, the coronavirus crisis drastically changed the lives of many people. At the same time, the economy also had to radically transform itself in a short period. Is this crisis a driver for sustainability?
CHRISTOPH LOOS: I wouldn’t put it that way. If there is a relevant driver for sustainability, it is the identified environmental problems, which no one can close their eyes to. But the coronavirus crisis has certainly accelerated certain developments.
Can you give us some examples?
CHRISTOPH LOOS: Digital working, for example. This has proven successful in many areas of our work. Overall, of course, we have reduced our travel enormously during the coronavirus crisis, with corresponding improvements in our carbon footprint. We are encouraging our employees to increasingly consider using digital formats as an alternative to business travel, even after the crisis. However, with our business model of direct sales and our corporate culture, we remain a “people business”, which means that personal contact with our customers and our global teams will continue to play a major role in the future.
MICHÈLE FREY-HILTI: What the crisis has also shown is the cohesion among team members. We may be more distant physically, but there is a great sense of solidarity. A strong example of this is the voluntary waiver of part of the salary and a reduction in working hours by employees from various divisions of our Group, an amount which has been matched by the company. This enabled us to pay CHF 13.6 million into an internal fund. The sum is being made available to those Hilti team members and their families in need as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and who work in countries without state support and health systems.
In the future we will consciously incorporate ecological and social factors more strongly into our corporate decisions and actions.Peter Rupp,
Head of Corporate Sustainability
Mr. Rupp, this is the first time Hilti has published a sustainability report. Was it challenging to get it off the ground?
PETER RUPP (laughs): Let’s put it this way: We’ve been busy shaking up the organization over the past few months. But the real work lies in driving our initiatives forward. It has been a pleasure to prepare this report, because for the first time we can show a comprehensive picture. We are happy to have established a baseline against which we can now compare our progress and challenges each year. This gives our ambitious goals credibility both internally and externally.
CHRISTOPH LOOS: Credibility is a good keyword, Peter. I would like to add to that. We are aware that we still have a long way to go in many areas. That’s why we have consciously set ourselves targets and chosen a reporting format that makes it very transparent where we are currently behind where we want to be. We are not concerned with sustainability because of the zeitgeist or because we are thinking about our image. We want to run our business in a fundamentally more environmentally friendly way and with a more positive contribution to society. We also explicitly support the 10 principles of the UN Global Compact, which provide a clear framework for this.
Ms. Frey-Hilti, did the sustainability report hold any surprises for you?
MICHÈLE FREY-HILTI: Fortunately, no surprises in terms of content (laughs). I am happy that we now have this report. It gives our customers and our entire community a good overview of everything we do and drive forward. Because that’s what matters: That we don’t pick up a fashionable term and talk about sustainability, but that we actually take action. I hope that we can inspire others on our journey, and also learn from each other.
We want to run our business in a fundamentally more environmentally friendly way and with a more positive contribution to society.Christoph Loos,
Finally, a question for all three of you: Apart from Hilti, what personal goal do you set for more sustainability in your own life?
PETER RUPP: My goal is to travel by foot or bicycle wherever possible. And when it comes to purchasing habits, we as a family want to buy mainly local products, increasingly avoid packaging and use reusable materials more often.
CHRISTOPH LOOS: I’m currently rethinking the way I used to travel a lot – both professionally and privately. I also want to offset my own footprint by personally supporting sustainability projects in the social and environmental areas.
MICHÈLE FREY-HILTI: I pay a lot of attention to eating as sustainably as possible with regional and seasonal ingredients. I grow a lot of vegetables in our garden and have been a vegetarian for 24 years. That’s why I’m also involved in animal welfare. In the future, however, I would also like to pay more attention to my consumer behavior. In the case of clothing, for example, I want to make sure that it is not manufactured under inhumane conditions or using child labor. I think these small steps are important, because each of us can take responsibility and contribute to a better world.