For Alina Barnack, sustainability is a way of life – from her vegetable patch to her job choice. As part of the ‘Compliance, Sustainability & Integrity’ team in Procurement at Mercedes-Benz AG, she focuses on transparency during the procurement of raw materials, respect for human rights in our supply chains and environmentally responsible practices on the part of our suppliers. In the interview, the Berlin native explains why her work at Daimler fascinates her and what students should have a bit more courage for.
Ms. Barnack, the issue of sustainability is of particular importance in your life. Why is that?
Actually, it’s always been that way; for me, it has to do with respect. Future generations should have it just as good as we do today. I would like to contribute to this, even it's by doing small day-to-day things like using public transport more often or looking for organic and local food when shopping. In my job at Mercedes-Benz, it is then on an even larger scale: As part of the ‘Compliance, Sustainability & Integrity’ team, I deal with the transparency during the procurement of the raw materials used in our vehicles – and therefore with ways in which we can attain shared values with our suppliers relative to human rights and environmental protection issues across all stages of the supply chain.
This is not that simple, or is it?
Supply chains can be very complex. One example: Cobalt is used in many areas of car manufacturing. This means that the material passes through many stages; for example, from the cobalt mine, through to the extraction of the raw material and the production of electronic components, until it is finally built into our vehicles, for example, in the form of lithium-ion batteries. Many companies are involved at each stage of production. This is what makes the issue so complex. In total, we at Daimler have over 60,000 direct suppliers – and that doesn’t even include the sub-suppliers.
How do you and your colleagues keep track of things?
For this, Daimler has what is known as the ‘Human Rights Respect System‘, which we use in order to monitor risk-based human rights standards in our supply chains. In our team, I am personally responsible for the lithium supply chain, among other things. This means that I look very closely at where raw materials are extracted from and where they are processed. I then assess whether the companies involved meet OECD standards on the issue of human rights. This is a broad topic because Daimler doesn’t usually purchase the raw materials directly but rather the end product, such as the battery cell.
What does awareness-raising work involve?
We require our partners to respect and observe human rights, so we support them with their commitment to and campaigning for the issue. In this process, the dialog with our business partners takes center stage, e.g. through regular telephone calls or face-to-face meetings at our premises or the supplier’s.
Key part of my duties is work to raise awareness.
Why did you choose Daimler as your employer?
I was pleased to join Daimler because the company has high standards of environmental protection and human rights, and I could see the challenge presented by the size and complexity of the company.
Can you give an example?
I can think of two examples right away: First, our participation in projects such as the Drive Sustainability Initiative, in which companies from the automotive industry set common sustainability standards. Or the aid organization Bon Pasteur, with which Daimler works directly on the ground in order to improve the lives of people in the cobalt mining region of Kolwezi in Congo.
How does collaboration in your field work?
We have a great team and support each other. The experience that a colleague has gained in the supply chain for one raw material can often be transferred to other materials. This results in synergies, because issues in the field of sustainability are related. The personal side of Daimler is great. I have now become friends with many of my colleagues and sometimes we also go out together after work.
Its commitment to people and the environment is considered an investment in a sustainable future. I was inspired by this attitude. And, through our work, my colleagues and I are able to make an important contribution to sustainable business together with our suppliers – even beyond Daimler.
What advice would you give to young students in your area of specialization?
This is also because many companies recognize that a sustainable approach creates real values. There will be completely new, diverse jobs and duties in this area in the future. The need for expertise in the field of sustainability is always growing. So: Simply keep your eyes open.
One last personal question: It's 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Where can you usually be found?
Very happy in a small vegan cafe in downtown Stuttgart with a delicious piece of cake and a cup of coffee – grown sustainably, of course. [laughs]
There has been awareness of the environment and respect for human rights in business for a long time.
Alina Barnack, 32, did her master’s degree in ‘Sustainability, Economics and Management’ at the University of Oldenburg. In 2016, she joined Daimler and together with her colleagues on the ‘Compliance, Sustainability & Integrity’ team in Procurement at Mercedes-Benz has focused on the issue of human rights. If it has anything to do with sustainability, Alina Barnack is happy to set her hand to it: Whether repairing fences for environmental protection on a field trip in the Northern Irish Mourne Mountains or pulling up weeds in the vegetable patch she has rented together with a friend.