"Sustainable corporate management is a crucial factor for achieving long-term economic success"
Does capitalism have a future? How can our economy produce sustainable growth? And how can companies keep people employed longer? At Deutsche Post DHL's second Corporate Responsibility Day, experts participating in various panel discussions under the overarching motto of "Taking Responsibility Together" critically examined the structure of a sustainable economic system and the challenges posed by demographic change. They passionately debated if capitalism had a viable future and how companies could, in light of the demographic shift impacting society, develop new models of work to retain older people with age-appropriate jobs.
Background: Corporate Responsibility Day 2012
Discussion panel with CEO Frank Appel und Prof. Dr. Klaus Töpfer during the 2012 CR Day.
To truly create a sustainable economy and society, new definitions for the production factors of work and capital may have to be found, stated Cherno Jobatey, event moderator, in summarizing the views expressed at the second Corporate Responsibility Day. In the process, both the political and business communities have an obligation to take responsibility. "As a global company, we understand that we have a significant contribution to make toward the advancement and well-being of society and to the preservation of a livable planet," said Frank Appel, CEO of Deutsche Post DHL, in explaining the convictions of his company.
"Sustainability is a core principle of our company strategy. Sustainable corporate management is a crucial factor for achieving long-term economic success," he stated in his opening speech at the Corporate Responsibility Day held at the Bonn-based company's headquarters.
Discussion about the relationship between sustainability and capitalism
His opening words signaled the start of a lively discussion about the relationship between sustainability and capitalism. And although parts of the market economy weren't functioning properly in past years, Appel still considers capitalism a successful model. The global financial crisis had destroyed trust and triggered a more general debate about capitalism. However, the basic principle to satisfy needs through the market would remain valid. His discussion partner Klaus Töpfer, former German Environment Minister, expressed a more critical view: "This system, in which the markets alone decide what relevant costs are included, cannot be sustainable and will fail," Töpfer said. He added that in our current economic system, the notion of "short-term thinking" was the rule of the day, explaining that costs were mostly passed on to subsequent generations and risks and responsibility were no longer connected.
That, in turn, had led to an underestimation of the risks. Töpfer cited these reasons in calling for a sustainable approach to business in which all future costs should already be factored in today - for instance, a tax on CO2 emissions. "We must put an end to short-term thinking. We must ask ourselves the fundamental question of whether or not sustainability and capitalism are compatible."
The statements made by the former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Ministry were opposed by Dr. Karl-Georg Altenburg, CEO at JP Morgan Chase for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Altenburg defended the current economic system: "Capitalism is not an ideology, rather the applied concept of efficiently using capital, which we need in every production-oriented society." The investment banker did, however, admit that mistakes were made in the finance industry in recent years, and, as a result, stronger regulations were needed. "We have not succeeded in providing a transparent explanation of the important role of banks as providers of capital and financers of growth investments. This is an area where we banks must clearly do more," Altenburg stressed in describing the contribution banks must make in creating a sustainable financial system.
Driver for sustainable growth
In a related comment, Frank Appel pointed out that a connection to the real economy and, in the process, the fulfillment of actual customer needs were essential for the sustainable development of capitalism. The panel participants did agree that maintaining a singular focus on shareholder value was an obsolete approach. Instead, a sharper focus must be placed on the role people play. In addition, the shared goal of the business and political communities must be to generate growth without using additional resources. "For these reasons, the innovation and well-educated workers will be the driver for sustainable growth in Europe," Altenburg summed up.
The importance of employees was also a central focal point of the second panel discussion, which examined demographic change and the risks and opportunities it presents. In examining the issue from the perspective of sustainable corporate management, panel members agreed that it was in the interest of the economy as a whole and all those participating in it - whether trade unions or companies - to retain employees for as long as possible by providing attractive conditions. For Angela Titzrath, Deutsche Post DHL's Board Member for Personnel, finding aged-based working solutions is a top priority. "One-third of our employees are older than 50. It is in our best interest to retain these employees for a long period of time. To do this, we must create age-appropriate jobs, and that requires creative solutions."
Deputy Federal Chair of the ver.di trade union Andrea Kocsis held a similar view. She confirmed that the primary objective was "to effectively design work so employees can remain in good health on the job longer." Professor Klaus F. Zimmermann, Director of the Institute for the Study of Labor, took a similar position: Besides the potential created through immigration, older people represent the greatest resource for our economy, he said. "It would be negligent to not tap the potential of older workers," he added. Titzrath supported this view with a concrete example from the company: Recently, Deutsche Post DHL had crafted a generation contract for employees with the trade union ver.di. On the basis of working-time accounts, the partial-retirement program and the demographic fund, the agreement would offer employees aged-based career opportunities. She added that this model included young people just starting their careers and long-time employees. After all, she said, "Sustainable solutions can only be developed by working together."
Solutions can only be found by working together
A similar thought - that solutions can only be found by working together - was also expressed by Rainer Wend, Executive Vice President of Corporate Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility at Deutsche Post DHL. He was joined by Professor Dr. Achim Kampker, General Manager at StreetScooter; Roland Dold from Daimler AG; Dr. Wilfried Vyslozil, Deputy Chairman of SOS Children's Villages International; and Rudolf Müller from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), on another panel that examined the importance of cooperative partnerships between companies and organizations. "Whether it is about our projects in the area of education, the environment or disaster management: We need partners and are pleased that our partnership model is so successful," Wend stated. Deutsche Post DHL had teamed with SOS Children's Villages International to help young people gain access to the world of work and together with dedicated employees to pass on useful knowledge. He added that Deutsche Post DHL closely worked with a number of partners to reach climate goals - improving CO2 efficiency by 30 percent by 2020.
In particular the company is investing in alternative vehicles particularly in the area of transport and is presently testing about 4,000 vehicles with various drive systems produced by various manufacturers. The company is also applying the know-how gained through partnerships to the areas of resource conservation, the development of new technologies and the optimization of transport operations. The results are clear to see in the current Corporate Responsibility Report, which was presented at the CR Day. After the intermediate goal for 2012 (set in 2007) was already reached in 2010, the company's CO2 efficiency for 2011 was again improved by two index points, Wend said.