Sustainability – Bayer’s DNA, – Oliver Gierlichs, Managing Director & CFO Bayer Ukraine
This year, Bayer Ukraine has joined the EBA Second Chance Bank. The company is also one of the founders of the Agro Varta Project. Both initiatives are united by the desire for smart consumption and waste management. After all, the environmental situation is becoming increasingly tense both in Ukraine and worldwide. So we decided to learn from Oliver Gierlichs, Managing Director & CFO Bayer Ukraine, why sustainable development should be implemented both in business and in everyday life and how much Bayer invests in this direction.
Your vision «Health for all, Hunger for none» sounds like philosophy. Can you outline key milestones of Bayer’s approach toward sustainability?
Sustainability is not just a trendy word for us. We are faced with an unprecedented challenge of a growing and aging population while we need to use the planet’s natural resources in a more sustainable way we did so far. Our core sustainability areas are in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and include supporting smallholder farmers, providing access to everyday health and modern family planning, ensure gender equality and women empowerment.
Regarding our global targets, we are aiming by 2030 to:
- help 100 million smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries to produce enough quality food for themselves and others
- enable 100 million people in underserved communities to access everyday health
- provide 100 million women in low- and middle-income countries with access to modern contraception.
For how long do you participate in (to say so) a sustainable business movement? Why did you decide to join?
Before coming to Ukraine, I have been leading Bayer in West & Central Africa for three years and that was an incredible experience. The Bayer team and I initiated the reconstruction of a rural school in 2019. Today, the school has new primary classrooms, educational equipment, a canteen, toilet facilities, outdoor playing areas, new nursery classes, teacher’s accommodation, and a wall around the facilities that keep animals away and underlines a privileged space for studies. That was an amazing project that has been complemented with additional opportunities for the local smallholder farmers, medical equipment for the local health station, and finally training programs that support girls and young women.
On a personal level, I have been following a sustainable approach most of my life. I have adopted waste separation and recycling for more than 25 years. I even introduced it at Bayer in Mexico when I was living there in the 1990s. Among other aspects, I would mention sustainable shopping, sustainable food choices from local farmers and growers.
How much do you invest in sustainable development?
For me it may be difficult sometimes to split business and sustainability investment, ideally, both should come together complementing each other. In our global Ag business, for example, we are about to introduce short-statue corn, that is more resilient against crop losses through extreme storms, needs less fertilizer, can be planted closer together, and has deeper root systems that allow for removal and storage of atmospheric carbon in the soil. This invention will dramatically increase yield and thus reduce the land needed for one of the most important food crops in the world. So, this is a business and sustainability investment at the same time.
Another example could be around packaging – making it more eco-friendly and at the same time more cost-effective.
We have our seed plant in Ukraine, and we try to minimize the production waste as much as we can. For example, from the very beginning, we were using corn cobs as a source of fuel for heating corn instead of gas. And as of this season, we started to sell corn husks for biogas production, while in the past we had to dispose of them at a significant cost – this is a great win-win of business and sustainability.
Also, at the community level, we support programs and initiatives in the areas of education, healthy nutrition, and environmental protection. Also, it is important that in sustainable investment your example is being followed by other companies and industries – the more pioneers you have in this space – the better.
How does your sustainability team communicate the benefits of «going green» or «being sustainable» to more skeptical team members of the organization?
This summer we have launched the program Green Office. This is an excellent question. Indeed, there are always people in the organization that may be skeptical about certain initiatives or new topics. Thus, it is important to have your leaders stand on behalf of this initiative. Also, you need to explain to people the need for these initiatives, and what it does for them, the people around them and their children. Then, they most likely will change their mind. At least they will start thinking about this in a different way.
In the EBA Bayer supports a lot of initiatives connected to sustainability (Agro Varta, Second Chance Bank). Why?
Sustainability is anchored at the core of our strategy, our operations, and our business DNA overall. We have defined clear targets for our businesses that we are aiming to achieve by 2030, in line with the UN SDGs. Here in Ukraine, we have been working with our long-term partner, European Business Association, whose initiatives fully correlate with Bayer’s vision, and which can create a platform for uniting business into progressive and effective partnerships.
Thus, happy to join efforts on this project as well!