'Corporate responsibility and business success belong together'
An interview with Frank Appel, CEO of Deutsche Post DHL, upon the publication of the 2011 Corporate Responsibility Report on May 3, 2012.
CEO Frank Appel
Mr. Appel, today you are holding a Corporate Responsibility Day for the second time, and you are presenting your 2011 CR report. What is it all about?
Frank Appel: For us, Corporate Responsibility Day is about two things: First, CR Day is a chance for us to demonstrate that corporate responsibility is a top priority at Deutsche Post DHL. And we can do this with a degree of pride: After all, our guiding principle - "Respect & Results" - has been a fundamental component of our corporate DNA for years. Our broad range of CR activities show this clearly. Second, this day serves as an opportunity for all of our stakeholders to join us in a discussion about how we can contribute even more to the common good as a responsible corporate citizen.
Isn't having this kind of discussion more the job of political leaders?
Frank Appel: It's up to all of us - companies included - to keep our planet livable. For Deutsche Post DHL, it's obvious: achieving business success and assuming corporate social responsibility are not contradictory objectives. Quite the opposite: they go hand in hand. Social and environmental issues confront us every day, in particular because we are a global company.
These issues have an impact on our business and on us as people. This becomes clear very quickly: The global issues that humanity must address now and in the future are so significant that political leaders alone cannot find the answers to them. They depend on the willingness of international corporations to take action on behalf of society and to make responsible business decisions. At Deutsche Post DHL, we take the resulting responsibility very seriously. We refer to this as Living Responsibility.
What is the idea behind this term?
Frank Appel: The Living Responsibility concept is supported by three pillars. With our GoGreen program, we have taken tangible steps to protect the environment with our products and services. GoHelp is our disaster-management program through which employees of Deutsche Post DHL provide logistics support when a natural disaster strikes. And with GoTeach, we help children around the world receive a good education. All of these three components of Living Responsibility draw on our core expertise, the know-how of our employees and our global presence to make a positive contribution to society and the environment.
What exactly does this contribution look like?
Frank Appel: The best way to illustrate the contribution we make as part of our social commitment is with an example: Our industry, international logistics, forms the backbone of global trade. Without logistics and logisticians, worldwide economic cooperation would not have developed into what it is today. And, as a consequence, millions of people would not have the resulting opportunities to have a better future. But our industry has also produced a significant share of worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions. This means one thing: As a logistics company, we have the clear responsibility to contribute to the creation of a low-emission global economy.
This has led us to set a target for Deutsche Post DHL: By 2020, we intend to improve the CO2 efficiency of our operations and those of our transportation subcontractors by 30 percent over the benchmark year of 2007. This goal places us at the forefront of our industry. And that is not all: Two years ahead of schedule we had already reached the interim target to lower CO2 emissions by 10 percent by the end of 2012.
But you're also dependent on others in your efforts - you won't be able to accomplish much on your own, will you?
Frank Appel: We definitely can't solve the climate problem by ourselves. But I don't believe in just sitting there and saying that the others should get going first. With nearly 500,000 employees around the globe and as the world's leading logistics company, we have a responsibility to set a good example. And besides that: Through a number of initiatives and agreements, we have joined forces with other equally committed companies to provide further momentum to finding environmentally conscious transportation solutions. As you can see, we are doing anything but acting alone.
What internal steps have you taken to continue to pursue your CO2 goal? To what degree do Deutsche Post DHL customers benefit from these efforts?
Frank Appel: Our GoGreen products are particularly attractive for our customers. In recent years, we have carried out several studies on sustainable logistics, and they have clearly shown this: Nearly two-thirds of our business customers say that they would prefer a "greener" logistics company over one with cheaper rates. We are also seeing this reflected in sales of our GoGreen products: In 2011, nearly 1.9 billion letters, packages and express deliveries were transported in a carbon-neutral manner. This is 100 million more than in the previous year. Beyond that, we have implemented a wide array of additional measures in the Group: These range from modernizing our aircraft fleet and making aerodynamic and engine-related improvements to our vehicles to using solar energy, rainwater and alternative heating systems in our buildings - together with GoGreen deliveries, these steps enabled us to offset 134,000 tons of CO2 emissions last year.
And what do Deutsche Post DHL shareholders receive from the company being so green?
Frank Appel: For us, it isn't just about being a more environmentally conscious logistics company. I had mentioned this earlier: Living Responsibility is also supported by the two pillars of disaster management and our education initiative GoTeach. Furthermore, we have implemented a large number of professional development programs for our worldwide employees. Why do we do this? Certainly one reason for this stems from the motivation I just mentioned: We intend to live up to our responsibility as a global company. But there is another reason: We are seeing that our investors increasingly demand that we assume exactly this kind of responsibility.
In one reflection of this, we determined from a 2011 survey of analysts that nearly one-half of the analysts who monitor our Group also consider "sustainability factors" in their investment recommendations. In addition, there are a broad range of indices that evaluate companies in terms of their socially and environmentally responsible actions. In turn, several key institutional investors draw from these indices in making their decisions. This clearly demonstrates the following point: Sustainability and responsible business actions are much more than just extra icing on the cake - they are fundamental components of strategic thinking and business practices. And this is exactly what our shareholders expect from us.
You previously mentioned the role of employees in achieving the goals of Living Responsibility. How is their know-how applied in GoHelp?
Frank Appel: With GoHelp, we provide our employees' knowledge and ability to quickly ensure that the urgently needed logistics infrastructure is up and running again should a disaster strike. We provide three levels of assistance: Both in terms of prevention - where we, for instance, prepare airport personnel for the logistics challenges created by a disaster - and in terms of direct disaster aid and reconstruction. As part of our collaboration with the United Nations, our colleagues are ready to deploy to any location in the world within 72 hours of a disaster striking.
What is the idea behind GoTeach?
Frank Appel: In a nutshell, GoTeach offers the chance for personal development for children and youth. One requirement is education. For this reason, we support the right of every child to receive a good education. As one of the world's largest employers, we have a responsibility in this area and with GoTeach, we accept this responsibility. Together with our partners Teach for All and the SOS Children's Villages, we are working toward the goal of encouraging new ways of thinking in society: Ones that lead to more equality in education and to local systems that give children and young people a better start into the future. I strongly believe that in the end the investments we make to educate our children will benefit us all - as a business and as a society.
In listening to you, one really hears your excitement for the concepts behind Living Responsibility. What makes this approach so special?
Frank Appel: You've already mentioned the word: excitement. By this, I especially mean the pride and the passion of our employees in doing their part to realize the goals of our Living Responsibility strategy. I am very proud to work in a company where employees share a mutual understanding that our actions as a company have sustainable value.