CORPORATE & STRATEGIE

We have a clear plan of action

Bernhard Kott, Senior Vice President Corporate Communications and Chief Sustainability Officer, talks about sustainability objectives at Symrise and why economic success, sustainable corporate management and social acceptance are not mutually exclusive.

Bernhard Kott has also been Chairman of the Sustainability Board since January.


Team Spirit In January 2020, you took on the position of Chief Sustainability Officer in addition to your function as Head of Corporate Communications. How do you see your additional role? Bernhard Kott Communication and sustainability have always been very closely linked, so it wasn’t too difficult to familiarize myself with the topics. During the first months of the year, we focus on completing the Corporate (Sustainability) Report; this is very time-consuming. Following publication of the report, I had many discussions about the further development of sustainability goals and future ambitions at Symrise. I was in especially close communication with the divisional sustainability officers and members of the Sustainability Board.

What will be the major challenges and objectives in terms of sustainability? One issue is climate change. We have set ambitious goals for ourselves in this area. As of 2030, we expect our company to be climate positive. There is a clear action plan for how we want to achieve this. Furthermore, as of 2025 we want to use only “green electricity” for our factories. The sustainability teams will vigorously pursue both initiatives. Another issue is the preservation of biodiversity. Symrise is heavily dependent on nature. We use important natural materials from all over the world and therefore from various climate zones. We must protect our nature, and we want to make our contribution. At the end it protects our business

What does that mean in concrete terms? We started sourcing important raw materials from sustainable cultivation early on and got actively involved in the countries of ori­gin. This commitment, such as with vanilla in Madagascar, has been widely recognized; it is a testimonial to successful backward integration into key raw materials. But there are also other promising projects One example is the cross-divisional “Bridging the Gap” project. Mark Birch leads our BTG Philippines Coconuts project and works with his Flavor Division colleagues to drive the BTG program including the Indian Mint and Madagascar Vanilla initiatives. A critical feature of the program is the partnership approach with major customers, non-governmental organizations and local Symrise teams. “Bridging the Gap” is a good example of how we directly transfer our efforts to source raw materials sustainably into business success with customer projects. In addition, the local farmers benefit since we are creating sustainable agriculture together. Although the coronavirus pandemic has created challenges for project management, teams have adapted to new ways of working and are finding innovative ways to engage with farming communities and move projects forwards.

Another example is our Nutrition segment business model, inspired by nature. It historically takes the best of nature, valorizing side streams from the industries and fresh markets, in order to develop sustainable solutions to bring better nutrition to the world. It aims to provide better health and well-being through nutrition while contributing to a circular economy. In this context, the sustainability team led by Marie Le Hénaff is working on a future fit assessment to prioritize and boost initiatives toward long term sustainable commitment.

To what extent do sustainable technologies play a role in the use of raw materials? Let’s take “green chemistry,” for example. The Scent & Care segment is extremely successful in this area – whether it’s in the chemical processing of renewable raw materials such as pine, the source material for terpenes, which we produce in a resource-friendly way in Jacksonville, Florida, or in the use of natural resources for cosmetic ingredients, such as sugar cane for Hydrolite-5-green, an important component in personal care products. Another example is probably the world’s best process for menthol production, which yields virtually no byproducts. The operating teams in the divisions continuously optimize the processes. Philippa Smith, responsible for sustainability management at S&C, is clearly demonstrating this technological advantage for Symrise. Incidentally, this outstanding work is greatly appreciated by our customers.

How do you link the various activities at Symrise, and who do they affect? In principle, sustainability goals and ambitions apply to every single person in our company. The Sustainability Board is the overall coordinator and also initiates specific measures. We also have a worldwide ambassador network; many big and small ideas for sustainability impact are implemented directly by Symrise employees around the world. Every employee can do their part by pointing out explicitly where we are not yet acting sustainably.

What role does the Executive Board play in sustainability matters? Dr. Bertram is the top sustainability officer in our company. The divisional directors are responsible for, and drive, sustainability initiatives in their units and teams. These include measures that I have just mentioned. Corporate Sustainability drives measures across the divisions and promotes the exchange of knowledge. Take Dr. Bertram, who also represents Symrise externally. He is a member of the jury and the board of trustees for the German Sustainability Award, which we have won twice. He is active in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and also represents us in the OP2B (One Planet Business for Biodiversity) initiative. The initiative is where CEOs of our major customers and competitors exchange ideas about major challenges, especially regarding biodiversity and natural resource preservation.

What are the current topics relating to the daily business of the Corporate Sustainability Board? For one thing, we have many reporting obligations. For example, we are getting an increasing number of questions from investors about our ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) performance on issues regarding environmental protection, social commitment and good corporate governance. Tobias Erfurth and the Investor Relations team coordinate these inquiries and the sustainability team responds to them. This is similar to the way a listed company must tackle financial issues on a daily basis. In addition to the many questions from investors, well-known rating agencies such as MSCI, Sustainalytics, ISS ESG, CDP, EcoVadis and SEDEX evaluate our sustainability performance, which Dr. Helmut Frieden oversees. He also coordinates the numerous social compliance audits which our customers and investors require, and is responsible for reporting the non-financial performance indicators for the annual Corporate Report. He continuously compares many levels of Symrise’s sustainable performance capacity with that of the competition and customers, and with legal requirements. Doris Gattermann li­aises with the ambassador network daily and is the contact for external organizations such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Business Development. In this way, we link internal and external activities and keep our ear to the market. Our expert and contact nature and biodiversity is Sascha Liese, who guides, empowers and supports the operating divisions in this regard. Many of the questions here come from customers. One topic of primary importance is the safety and health of our employees. The team coordinates a variety of measures including a pilot project at Tesium in Holzminden.

The media also write a lot about sustainability. What are our aspirations? We want to produce evidence that our measures work instead of sugarcoating them. Take the climate target for 2030. In 2017, we were the 61st company worldwide to commit to having our progress verified externally. We were among the first ten in Germany to join the “Science Based Targets” initiative. We continue to align ourselves closely with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and to report on our annual progress. We have divided Symrise’s sustainability aspects into four thematic blocks: environmental protection, employees and society, raw material sourcing and sustainable innovations. They form the framework that we are required to certify every year. The Symrise Supervisory Board is responsible for these non-financial indicators. This involves a great deal of complexity for a listed company.

What is the common thematic strategy for 2020? The focus for this and next year is nature. Our business depends on it. Even the company’s foundation in 1874 was based on its use of the conifers in Solling as raw material for the extraction of nature-identical vanillin. The graphics illustrate the many facets of nature and their relevance to our business and our daily efforts. They reflect the main activities of Symrise and our customers as well as our environmental and social challenges. Sustainability Communications, headed by Friedrich-Wilhelm Micus, highlights the many facets of nature as our guiding principle, in the current year and beyond. We will report on our measures and progress and will place a special focus on them in next year’s Sustainability Report.

The connecting link for this year and next is the topic of nature.

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