The entire automotive industry is currently going through a radical period of transformation. What role does sustainability play in this process?
Stefanie Müller: Sustainability in the automotive industry is shaped primarily by two factors. Firstly, regulatory requirements such as the implementation of stricter emission standards are driving the transformation. Secondly, there is a growing social awareness of the issue, as evidenced by the growing interest in sustainable vehicles. The concept of the car solely as a status symbol is no longer relevant; people are now looking for meaningful and sustainable mobility options. The industry has recognised and embraced this challenge, and we are also working towards mastering it.
Companies document how they design their processes sustainably, for example, in sustainability reports. What should be considered in this regard?
Stefanie Müller: In a sustainability report, a company informs its stakeholders and the interested public about the three dimensions of its sustainability strategy: environmental, social and economic sustainability. Important topics include environmental impact, employee and social concerns, human rights and compliance. Various guidelines and standards support reporting, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Their standards provide a foundation for companies and the public to communicate and compare the impacts of a company.
Only specific companies are currently required to report on sustainability. These include large publicly traded corporations and certain partnerships, banks and insurance companies. However, this will change from 1 January 2025, with the introduction of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will expand the scope of reporting to non-publicly traded companies with at least 250 employees.
Rhenus Automotive is currently not obligated to report on sustainability. Why did you still decide to publish sustainability reports?
Stefanie Müller: As a logistics service provider for the automotive industry, we play a special role that is far less visible than ‘traditional’ logistics areas such as road transportation or air and sea freight. In automotive manufacturing, we are responsible for tasks such as plant logistics, ensuring optimal material supply to our customers’ production lines, ‘just in time’ and ‘just in sequence’ – meaning at the right time and in the correct order. We also handle complex assemblies, e.g. interior modules such as headliners and door panels, as well as complete engines and axles. This ‘invisible’ role in the production process makes it even more important for us to communicate honestly and transparently about the impact of our business activities on people and the environment. This builds trust among employees, customers and the public. That is why we started sustainability reporting in 2019 to identify the significant impacts of our own business operations and define the starting point. This marked the beginning of the carbon neutrality challenge that we work on every day.
What is Rhenus Automotive doing in terms of sustainability, and how is it reflected in the sustainability report?
Stefanie Müller:Our sustainability report focuses on the topics of ecology and social aspects. We disclose our greenhouse gas emissions and discuss the measures we take to influence them. We also address our company culture and working conditions. Since 1 January 2023, we have been consistently implementing our obligations under the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act (LkSG). We openly discuss this challenge and our approach in the report. Our daily goal is to identify, measure and gradually reduce environmentally harmful impacts. We include CO2 emissions as real costs in our calculations. Through continuous optimisation and streamlining of our processes, we eliminate unnecessary work steps and thereby reduce the consumption of natural resources. We modernise our infrastructure with energy-saving options and alternatives, such as implementing a centralised energy management system certified in accordance with ISO 50001. This system records and evaluates the consumption at all locations, enabling targeted energy efficiency measures. Sustainability is also reflected in occupational safety and the well-being of our employees, who are our most valuable asset, in order to provide a good, safe and healthy work environment.
Does Rhenus Automotive participate in specific sustainability initiatives for the automotive industry beyond these measures?
Stefanie Müller: We have established the joint venture The Battery Lifecycle Company (BLC) together with our sister company TSR Automotive GmbH. The aim is to achieve comprehensive battery recycling throughout the entire value chain. The focus of an automotive manufacturer on an electric vehicle battery ends once it leaves the factory. Currently, about 10 to 20 per cent of batteries used in automotive production are treated as waste due to defective components. This is where BLC’s expertise comes in, ensuring that resources are not wasted. Functional batteries that no longer meet the performance requirements for vehicle use are refurbished for reuse in new applications. Batteries that are irreparably damaged and no longer operational are discharged and disassembled, and their components are returned to the raw material cycle.
Furthermore, Rhenus Automotive participates in research projects such as Innologbat (Innovation Laboratory for Battery Logistics in Electromobility) to collaboratively create a sustainable battery logistics system across industries, together with research partners and academia. In general, we aim to promote the establishment of a resilient infrastructure and sustainable industrialisation through such collaborations.
What sustainability goals have you set for the future?
Stefanie Müller: In addition to the goal of carbon neutrality, we support the UN Global Compact initiative for sustainable and responsible business practices, as well as the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which are a universal call by the United Nations to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of all people. The Rhenus Group has identified four of these 17 SDGs as priority goals for sustainable development: Climate Action, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Good Health and Well-being, and Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure. We are committed to taking immediate action to mitigate climate change and its impacts, going beyond the legal requirements of climate targets.
As an internationally operating family-owned logistics company, Rhenus takes its social responsibility seriously as sustainability is the key factor for stable and long-term growth. We therefore promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all. Through various projects with partners from science and research, we contribute our expertise and experience to develop sustainable solutions for the logistical challenges of the future.
For better readability, the generic masculine form is used in the text. However, the corresponding terms apply equally to all genders (m/f/d).
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