Crisis Drives Sustainable Thinking

Judith Herzog-Kuballa, sustainability and CSR consultant for Germany’s Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA), argues that the corona pandemic has shown the need to combine environmental consciousness with responsible business practices.

November 2020

The coronavirus crisis presents a huge challenge. Many companies have reported sharp declines in sales and a large number of employees furloughed. Orders have collapsed in some cases, and for some companies the coming months will be about sheer survival. But what at first seemed only negative could prove to be an opportunity for positive change in the direction of sustainability.

Both before and during the current crisis, the German mechanical engineering industry recognized this opportunity and has proven itself to be something of a pioneer in sustainable development. On the one hand, the industry provides technical sustainability solutions, while on the other it is concerned with resource-efficient production and responsible corporate governance.

»The industry is a ­pioneer in sustainable development.«

Judith Herzog-Kuballa,

sustainability consultant for the VDMA

At the same time, companies are discovering how vital good cooperation is in overcoming a crisis. The Lübeck company SLM Solutions, which specializes in 3D metal printers, has launched the initiative Additive Alliance against Corona. It is intended to bundle the industry’s forces and close the gaps in supply chains that have arisen from the closure of production facilities worldwide. The lifting equipment manufacturer J.D. Neuhaus Group is now printing masks for key workers and supermarket staff on site in Witten, for example. And within a few weeks, heating expert Viessmann began developing a mobile ventilation device, using parts of its heating equipment and heat pumps.

Multi-laser 3D printing technology: High-quality plastic injection tooling can now be done in a few days. © SLM Solutions

Companies can apply what they’ve learned from this crisis to other areas. Part of good company preparation is considering the impact of external factors (environment, labor, human rights, etc.) in risk assessment and aligning strategy accordingly. The VDMA initiative Blue Competence supports this process with guidelines and best practice and shows how helpful cooperation between different players can be for sustainability.

German mechanical engineering firms have demonstrated their ability to identify societal risks and turn them into new opportunities. When this crisis eventually comes to an end, it will be important to stay on track.

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