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Interview with Verena Keller, Business Development Manager Sustainability at uvex

Verena Keller is the Business Development Manager Sustainability at uvex. We talked to her about her work, learnings, plans, goals, and what sustainability means to her personally.

“It’s our responsibility to take care of ecological and social aspects within supply chains and our manufacturing.”

What does sustainability mean for you?

Verena Keller: “Sustainability is a complex term. Often it is directly equated with CO2 reduction, which is critical because it makes sustainability more concrete, countable, measurable, and manageable. Yet the term sustainability encompasses much more than just CO2. By definition, sustainability consists of three pillars: economic, ecological, and social. Personally, however, I find the term pillar misleading, though, as the three fields all overlap. Combining these three pillars from a corporate perspective, in my opinion, prepares your company for the future. It’s critical to see those three aspects as an interface, an overlapping foundation for the future – in terms of successful companies and success for our planet. It’s our responsibility to take care of ecological and social aspects within supply chains and our manufacturing.”

 

What motivates you to work in sustainability?

VK: “I feel very lucky that I can combine my interest in economics and my passion for the outdoors, nature, and the environment as a whole in my job. As awareness of ethical and environmental standards grows, I am very pleased that well-established companies and administrative sectors are also prioritizing and investing in these topics. My values align with today’s companies’ needs – that’s very rewarding for me.”

 

How did you become a business development manager sustainability?

VK: “For more than ten years, I’ve worked in the textile industry with a focus on the sports and outdoor segment as a key account and project manager for a company producing Merino yarns. That way, I was quite in the center of the textile industry’s supply chain, managing and developing sustainable product ranges together with large sports brands. This level of supply chain transparency, paired with the high awareness within the outdoor industry for sustainable product making and the communication around it, prepared me for my role in sustainability.

All the same, talking to my friends, who felt insecure about sustainable buying decision criteria in the textile industry, was eye-opening. It is not enough to conduct and implement sustainability but is as important to communicate appropriately for the addressee. Within the course of our sustainable responsibility, education for consumers, business partners, you name it, is just as essential.

That’s why I made it my mission in my role at uvex business development to break the complex matter of sustainability into small portions and address them in a target group- oriented way – to invite everybody to go on the sustainability journey in all its facets from product, manufacturing, corporation – just to name a few.”

 

What would you rate your most successful measure for sustainability in the last years and why?

VK: “Surely, I could never break this down into one specific measure or project. Sustainability is a journey, a transformation. In anything I do, I try to involve as many colleagues as possible in the transformation toward sustainability.

Internally, I keep communicating and informing to create transparency in every aspect of sustainability step by step. Luckily, I have great colleagues to support me in that role. At the same time, we try not to overload our colleagues with the sometimes-complex terminology and regulative requirements of sustainability. Even though I have to admit, sometimes this is not very easy. Let me give you one example that shows how we try to break down the complexity into smaller portions. Instead of two-hour e-learning slots, we are planning short sessions to keep people interested. Each session is just a few minutes long but, therefore, on a regular basis.

Sharing knowledge in the field of sustainability is key. On LinkedIn, for example, we’ve started a format which is called “uvex x-plore. Every two weeks, we take one term, like circularity or recycling, and explain it in simple words. With this format, we create awareness about sustainability, share knowledge and provide best-practice examples of how these terms can be put into practice.”

 

What’s something new you learned in the past year?

VK: “Clearly: learning never stops. Whenever I feel that I got on top of one topic, something new pops up. One reason for this is that everything is interlinked with each other within sustainability. All the same, this is exactly what makes working in the field of sustainability so exciting, too. It is critical to look at problems, challenges, and projects from many different angles and always consider how one measurement might affect another. Most of the time, I like it, but sometimes it can be quite challenging – in any case, it trains creative and solution-oriented thinking.”

 

What do you do to make your own life more sustainable?

VK: “Personally, I’m far from perfect. Every day, I realize small things that I could do in a better, more sustainable way. At the same time, I think it is critical that we don’t overwhelm ourselves and rather take little steps that fit our own individual lifestyles and integrate them into our everyday life. Some examples here are that I reduced my meat consumption and use my car less often and replace flights with train rides wherever I can. Especially in the summertime, I try to use my bike more and repair clothes and general things instead of buying new ones. All these small things are certainly not groundbreaking but do make a difference in the awareness transformation process.

 

What do you think most companies lack to become better at sustainability?

VK: “Assumingly, it’s the complexity of sustainability. Personally, I am lucky to be working in an organization that set a base for sustainability years ago. But there are companies that have to start from scratch and, with all the legal pressure, must do it fast and next to other challenges like COVID, digital transformation, and inflation, to mention a few. These external factors make doing business challenging and difficult. So the additional requirements of sustainability might feel like another burden for some.

And here, I believe, is where a change in mindset helps. If all companies change their perspective and consider sustainability topics from burden to business opportunity, there’ll be great potential when we start seeing business and sustainability going hand in hand.”

 

What is the biggest thing that hinders you from implementing changes in your company?

VK: “Well, honestly, there’s not really a thing that’s hindering me. Luckily, we have a great commitment to sustainability. Of course, there are always lots of things to do and (too) limited time. That’s probably the biggest challenge. However, I see sustainability as a journey, a transformation process. Let’s take it step by step together, and don’t expect to be perfect by 2024. I am very confident that this way, we will be successful as a society when it comes to implementing sustainability.”

 

If you had one wish from a legislative point of view to make your job easier, what would you wish for?

VK: “From a legislative point of view, I’d wish for better orchestration of all sustainability institutions. Legislation at the moment feels like plenty of small bits and pieces. The requirements need to be understandable and clearer. I’d like sustainability to be looked at from a holistic point of view without the island solutions we have right now. In a perfect-world scenario, that would be great.”

 

If you had one wish from your manager or your colleagues to make your job easier, what would it be?

VK: “Firstly, I need to say that the support of both my colleagues and managers is really given. It is great to experience such a strong commitment to sustainability not only on a corporate level but also on a personal identification level. I have the impression that many colleagues are quite happy about the opportunity to contribute to a more sustainable (business) world also in their job roles.

All the same, the vast complexity of operational sustainable topics and the resulting tasks can sometimes be very intense and time-consuming. The processing of these complex tasks can only be mastered through cooperation and mutual support between all departments and functions. As we work hand in hand toward this common goal, there is no doubt that we will successfully accomplish the sustainability transformation.”

 

What would you think the world needs most to fight global warming?

VK: “With the risk of repeating myself: We need everybody in the boat. We absolutely need to stop thinking: “I would be open to change something, but it doesn’t matter if not all other countries, persons, etc. also do” Everybody just needs to start. And especially as developed countries, we need to take responsibility, create best practice examples, and lead the transformation.”

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