Business success is inextricably linked with assuming social responsibility. The brand with the four rings is convinced of this and operates accordingly. In this interview, Fred Schulze, plant manager at Audi’s Neckarsulm site, and Achim Diehlmann, head of corporate environmental protection at the site, talk about sustainability as an engine driving change and their responsibility to the community and nature as the largest industrial company in the region.
Mr. Schulze, what role does sustainability play at the Audi site in Neckarsulm?
Fred Schulze: Sustainability plays an extremely important role here – and in all areas of life. Customers and employees around the world rightly expect us to be highly committed to making our production processes as environmentally friendly as possible. Particularly for us as a premium manufacturer, we are expected to set the standard for the environmentally friendly mobility of tomorrow through the use of sustainable technologies. But I also view contributing to a livable future as our inner drive, our attitude, our mindset.
What are your sustainability goals for the site – and what are you doing specifically to achieve them?
Schulze: Our primary goal is to avoid impacting the environment wherever possible. This starts with the packaging material for our vehicle components. Good ideas are always welcome – our colleagues from the A6 and A7 assembly teams, for example, are currently pilot testing a cycle that uses 3D printing to turn plastic waste into assembly aids. “Avoidance and reduction” is also our guiding principle when it comes to emissions. In this process, every single gram of carbon counts. We’ve been sourcing green power across the entire site since the beginning of 2020. When it comes to water use, we are currently testing a pilot plant for a closed water cycle with the adjacent wastewater treatment plant operated by AZV Unteres Sulmtal, in the hope that in the future, we’ll no longer need to draw water from the Neckar river. Next year we will begin the process of installing a new water supply system.
Mr. Diehlmann, Audi’s goal is for the Neckarsulm site to become net carbon-neutral by 2025. What changes will you have to make to achieve this?
Achim Diehlmann: We have organized our measures across four hierarchical levels, with energy efficiency at the top. We’re modernizing our systems to reduce energy consumption. The second level focuses on self supply. In the CHP plant at Böllinger Höfe, for example, we rely on biogas to generate carbon-neutral heat. The third hierarchical level relates to the procurement of electrical and thermal energy. In Neckarsulm, we exclusively source green power. The fourth level is concerned with carbon emissions that we can’t further reduce or avoid. This also includes processes outside of production, such as tests with fuels specific to certain regions for our markets worldwide or shipments to and from the site. We offset these emissions using carbon credits from certified offsetting projects.
You’re the site’s environmental protection officer and project manager of the cross-site environmental program Mission:Zero. How important has environmental protection become at Audi in recent years?
Diehlmann: The importance of sustainability has increased tremendously over the past few years. Audi already goes far beyond simply meeting statutory environmental protection requirements. Through our Mission:Zero environmental program, we are proactively implementing measures at all Audi sites in the fields of decarbonization, water use, resource efficiency, and biodiversity. Mission:Zero has created acceptance within the company and also unlocked funds to support measures such as biodiversity conservation. Flower meadows or nesting sites primarily benefit the animals around our facilities and pay off for humans in other ways, such as improving the quality of life and the work environment.
Mr. Schulze, your career at Audi has taken you as far as China, but Neckarsulm is your home. Do you therefore feel that you have a special responsibility for the people and the environment in the region?
Schulze: After spending time abroad, you look at your home with fresh eyes. I see how much we’ve already achieved here. People care about the environment, many are personally active in promoting sustainability, and they enjoy the clean air. I’d like to do my part to ensure that the generations that come after us can also live here in harmony with nature. Audi’s ambitious sustainability goals prove that we’re on the right track. But even China has now adopted extremely high environmental standards for factories. Climate change affects us all, and we’ll only be able to limit its effects together if every country takes environmental protection seriously.
Mr. Diehlmann, what can each individual do to promote sustainability?
Diehlmann: We all bear responsibility for nature and our personal carbon footprint. I’d like to see more people come to this realization in the future and live accordingly. In my family, for example, we avoid disposable products wherever possible. We don’t drive our children to school. Maybe leave the lawn mower in the garage for a while and make the yard more insect-friendly. These are small changes in behavior that have a lasting effect if a large number of people take them to heart.