Daimler Sustainability Dialogue 2020

The 13th Daimler Sustainability Dialogue brought together more than 200 representatives from business, politics, and society for the first time in digital space. They discussed not only how the automotive industry can accelerate the fight against climate change, but also how Daimler is dealing with sustainability issues in times of the corona pandemic. On a virtual event platform, Daimler representatives and stakeholders met in small groups to discuss concrete challenges relating to human rights, data responsibility, and environmental issues. The agreed goals will be pursued further during the year, and progress will be presented at next year's Sustainability Dialogue.

Paneldiscussion: Sustainability and COVID-19 - Roadblock or accelerator for transformation?

This year, renowned experts from Berlin, Potsdam and Bonn participated in the digital panel discussion of the 13th Daimler Sustainability Dialogue. Johan Rockström, member of the Advisory Board for Integrity and Corporate Governance, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Professor in Earth System Science at the University of Potsdam, Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, Parliamentary State Secretary, and Claudia Nemat, Board Member for Technology and Innovation at Deutsche Telekom AG, discussed the influence of Covid-19 on the sustainable transformation of the automotive industry together with Ola Källenius, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG.

What the participants say

We asked four participants how they experienced the virtual Daimler Sustainability Dialogue and recorded their impressions in a voiceover.

Holger Lösch has been a member of the executive board of the German Industry Association (BDI) since 2011 and its Deputy Managing Director since April 2017. In his role as a stakeholder, he actively seeks the dialog with environmental associations, policymakers and media, and takes part in legislative processes.

Mr. Lösch, what does "sustainability" mean to you personally?

From my point of view, sustainability is simply an absolute necessity if we want to make it possible for future generations to continue to live in dignity on this planet.

Where do you see currently the biggest challenges for the automotive industry?

Quite clearly, it is now about mastering several transformations at once. There is the digital transformation on the one hand, and the climate issue and the geopolitical change in addition of course to another – the keyword here is trade policy. And there is the ideological debate: some people clearly reject individual mobility.

How can institutions such as the BDI support these transformation processes?

One of our primary tasks is to represent the interests of the entire industry in political discussions. We are the voice of the industry and speak towards environmental associations, policymakers and media. But that is not all. We are also deeply involved in a wide range of legislative and regulatory proposals. We are pursuing a clear-cut goal with all our activities: Shaping the environment for the industry in Germany, and that also includes the auto industry of course, so that it can continue to manufacture and contributes to the creation of value. With that in mind, we also take up strategic discussions such as, for example, on the mobility of the future, and are driving them in different formats.

Why do you think the exchange with companies such as Daimler is important?

The auto industry is definitely special with regard to its power of innovation. Those are companies that know how to shape the future. And they are extremely strong in strategic and technological issues. Thanks to the exchange, we learn as an association and make headway. Conversely, we also give something back with our assessment of the overall political climate. And of course with our network that brings experts and political decision-makers together.

What will you remember of this year's Daimler Sustainability Dialogue?

My perception is that Daimler takes this dialog very seriously. It is extremely important to explain why companies do what they do and to do so on the basis of clear and verified facts. Business cannot pass by society, it must involve it. I had the impression that it is a key concern of Daimler to lead a self-assured discussion geared towards the social and political goals, but without leaving out the economic issues.

What do you expect of a sustainability dialog?

That we talk about reality! I am often in dialogs where people iterate creeds and moral appeals. That doesn't get us anywhere. The question of whether we need sustainability or climate protection has long been answered and with "Yes" indeed. But much more intriguing is the question of how do we accomplish this? The sustainable transformation is highly complex, very expensive and in part fraught with high risks for individual industries and companies. But it also offers great opportunities.

Are there questions or topics that you would like to discuss at the next Daimler Sustainability Dialogue?

The focus of the debates definitely should continue to be on the question of which type of powertrain we will use for getting around in future. Although the policymakers have already shaped the path to some extent to be battery-electric, I am convinced that we will ultimately end up with a much more diverse mobility landscape than we have today, in which we will use a wide variety of powertrains.

What would you like to share with Daimler for the Lane Change?

Definitely to have the courage to address critical issues in future as well. But also to continue to be honest about what this Lane Change means for Daimler and the industry.

Laura Curtze has been in charge of the Economy & Human Rights section at the German Global Compact Network (DGCN) since 2019. As part of the world's largest initiative for sustainable and responsible corporate governance, she provides support for companies in anchoring social sustainability along the entire value chain. In the interview, she tells us what she values about the Daimler Sustainability Dialogue.

Ms. Curtze, what are the cornerstones of responsible corporate governance from your point of view?

In order to be able to act responsibly, a company must know its social environment and must be interested in its requirements.It is important to look at the effects of the company on stakeholders and people in its direct and indirect sphere of influence. This includes the willingness to look beyond your own immediate activities. In particular, a company must not be afraid to analyze the value chain. A company with sustainable business practices acknowledges risks and is willing to change.

Where do you see the automotive industry having to work especially hard in order to act sustainably from a human rights perspective?

The current Covid-19 pandemic is certainly a big challenge for the automotive industry at the moment – and what's more, one that nobody could have foreseen. The companies are faced with the task of absorbing in part still uncertain economic consequences – also in order to protect what has already been accomplished in terms of sustainability. I am aware that under special circumstances, priorities shift here and there. Nonetheless, the industry should not, lose their responsibility about those that are in further upstream stages of the value chain and were often among the most vulnerable groups even before the pandemic, Of course, car manufacturers are unable to solve every human problem on their own. That is precisely why we need to work out in dialog how we make progress together and take action. I think events like the Daimler Sustainability Dialogue are important, especially in challenging times ..

What is your personal motivation to enter into a dialog with companies such as Daimler?

When we talk about sustainability, it is crucial that all parts of society are working together. Especially in the area of human rights, we are frequently dealing with highly complex and systemic problems. Without the dialog and the cooperation between governments, companies and civil society the influence of individual players is limited. For this reason, regular and critical exchange with companies like Daimler plays a central role.

What will you remember of this year's Daimler Sustainability Dialogue?

There is one thing I am to take away again today: the sense of continuity. Just like when I first participated last year, the working groups repeatedly drew connections to the previous year, in keeping with the motto: We have taken your suggestions to heart and turned them into concrete measures. It's good to come back to an event if it makes a real impact and you have the feeling that people are listening. I like the format – in the digital form as well, by the way!

How else do you start the dialog with companies?

Our network brings the economy and other stakeholders together. That is why the organized exchange and dialog events are my daily bread, so to speak. When I then receive an invitation like the one from Daimler, I am naturally very pleased!

Is there something you are especially pleased about when you look to the future?

. I am looking forward to see how the framework conditions develop in regard to the human rights responsibility of companies. Ultimately, we need a "smart mix" of voluntary and binding, national and international measures - this is also stated in the UN guiding principles. We currently see a lot of movement in Germany and Europe in the area of binding regulations, which we hope will become an additional driver for more commitment and real change. Even though we all must do more than merely follow the rules, of course.

What does "sustainability" mean to you personally?

Being considerate! And not only of your own needs, but also of those of others – and of those of future generations.

Friedel Hütz-Adams has been a research associate at the SÜDWIND e.V. – Institut für Ökonomie und Ökumene (Institute for Economy and Ecumenism) since 1993. In his role, he explores ecological and social problems in value chains of the jewelry, cocoa and automotive industry. As a member of the Sustainability Advisory Council, he consults REWE Group on making problematic supply chains more sustainable. In the interview about the Daimler Sustainability Dialogue, he tells us why we should quantify progress differently in future.

Mr. Hütz-Adams, what does "sustainability" mean to you personally?

To me, sustainability means leaving the earth the way we found it – or maybe even a little bit better. To this end, we must manage our consumption in a way that ensures that there are still enough resources for our descendants.

From your point of view, what are the two biggest challenges our industry is facing?

The car is a product that promises individual mobility. However, the way I see it the freedom of mobility, like so many other things consumers value, comes at a price: in this case, the raw material requirement with significant social risks at the start of the value chain. To name just one example, the rubber for the tires is cultivated by small and micro farmers under partly very difficult conditions. In addition, it is clear that the production and use of vehicles is creating substantial environmental impacts. A "more of the same" like before is not an option, there is a consensus in this regard by now. This is where the task of the transformation begins – and it is truly a big one.

What is your personal motivation to enter into a dialog with companies such as Daimler?

Companies bear a great responsibility for what happens in their supply chains. Our institute has been advocating for remedying social and ecological risks in supply chains for almost 30 years now. Companies such as Daimler have creative power in this regard and are able to collaborate effectively on changes. That is we are talking to each other. Of course, governments are primarily responsible for human rights in their country. But wherever states fail to shoulder this responsibility, companies must take action to ensure that they do not benefit from human rights violations. That is also what the United Nations have stipulated.

So companies protect human rights where states shirk their responsibility?

Drastically reduced, yes, but always with regard to their own supply chain. We also must not forget that companies are subject to the pressures of competition. In other words: If the competition does not take action possibly for reasons of cost, the company acting responsibly may potentially suffer economic disadvantages. That cannot be. That is why large parts of the economy and many non-governmental organizations are currently advocating for a legal framework that is supposed to prevent this precisely.

What will you remember of this year's Daimler Sustainability Dialogue?

My personal true highlight was the panel discussion in the afternoon. I thought it was fantastic that there was the courage to address the big questions - for example, about the responsibility of the consumer or whether eco-friendly mobility is possible in the first place and if so, how! I was also very delighted by the openness with which challenges in the supply chain are being discussed these days. This matters, because we can only achieve something when many stakeholders pull in the same direction – and that does indeed require the open and ideally cross-industry dialog.

Is there something you are especially pleased about when you look to the future? Is there maybe something you worry about?

I am glad that we are slowly starting to think about how we want to quantify progress in future. At the same time, this is what worries me most. Because our economy is currently still running on the "More-and-More Principle." Our gross domestic product increases when we are stuck in traffic, because more resources are consumed. Large investment firms demand greater sustainability from companies – which is exactly what the stock market punishes, if the answer were fewer cars and the development of new mobility concepts with less turnover for example. There are still too many conflicting goals that are constantly slowing us down. I hope that we will be able to resolve these conflicts in the coming years with greater appreciation of more sustainable value creation.

What would you like to share with Daimler for its Lane Change?

Daimler is on the right track. However, we urgently need laws in order to ensure equal competitive conditions and really make changes happen in the entire industry. The dialog with society and policymakers can only help to demand them and make the transformation more predictable as a result.

Suzanne Hoadley is senior manager at Polis. The network brings together European cities and regions to develop technologies and strategies for local transport. Suzanne Hoadley is coordinator of the Transport Efficiency Working Group.

Ms Hoadley, what does "sustainability" mean to you personally?

The message behind the keyword sustainability is clear: we must live in a way that is in harmony with the natural resources of our planet.

What do you particularly like about your work?

I find it exciting to look at the positive but also the negative influence of new transport products and services. For example, the effects of technologies such as "autonomous driving" or approaches such as "mobility as a service". In particular, I am always looking forward to interesting perspectives when we hear and incorporate the opinions of various interest groups.

How can Daimler help to make traffic in cities more efficient?

The most important thing is to constantly seek an exchange with local authorities and other interest groups in order to adapt products and services to urban areas. It's about finding out what is needed in cities today and in the future, and how the parties can work together to achieve this. In my opinion, Daimler is already on the right track here.

Is there anything you expect from Daimler in terms of sustainability?

That can be summed up in a nutshell: We need clean vehicles. More and more European cities are introducing low-emission zones, and that's clearly pointing the way forward.

Were you able to pick up anything for yourself from the Daimler Sustainability Dialogue?

For me, there were some interesting points raised and cases presented. For example data should make our cities not just smarter, but also wiser. Having a 'route to market' is critical for emerging business products and services. This can work where the solution responds to a real need or problem - a genuine partnership between the public and private sector is needed to know what the problems and needs are.

Are there any topics you would like to discuss next time?

For me, one of the central questions is still unanswered: How do we manage to increase the occupancy rate of vehicles and establish a sharing economy? We haven't yet developed a joint solution that really appeals to users. The world's population is growing steadily - and this goes along with a shortage of space in cities.

What would you like to give Daimler on its SpurWechsel?

Companies like Daimler are on the right track when they interact with all stakeholders. Sustainable transformation can only be achieved by working together.

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