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Interview with Dr Julia Koch, Sustainability Manager at ASSMANN

The issue of sustainability is one that has become increasingly important in recent years. Each one of us is faced with the task of acting less wastefully, and with environmental and social awareness. As Sustainability Manager at one of Europe’s leading furnishings manufacturers, Julia, you play a key role in this. You’ll soon have been working for one year as Sustainability Manager at ASSMANN. Can you draw up your first balance sheet?

My first year at ASSMANN has passed very quickly for me. On the one hand that’s because I came on board at ASSMANN, and on the other because of the many projects in my professional field. I’ve already be able to help implement several measures: in September, we successfully passed our audit for environmental and energy management (ISO 14001 and ISO 50001), which we will have to face every year in the future. The new FEMB LEVEL 3 Certification for our products was also a success. And here we shouldn’t forget that not only do documents such as these serve as accreditation for the sustainability team, but also that the certificates considerably improve our chances when bidding for tenders.

What previous experience of the sustainability field did you have before joining ASSMANN?

I worked as a research associate at the University of Münster and wrote my doctoral dissertation on the topic of ‘Sustainable Economic Management’, during which time I mainly worked on a research project on environmentally friendly packaging.
During my studies I also devoted my time and energy to checking sustainability reports for a consultancy firm. This expertise and background experience from my research work and practical activities enabled me to form a holistic view of the working processes at ASSMANN and their environmental, economic and social potential.

Do you think that commercially viable and sustainable action are in conflict with one another?

No, I don’t think so. In my view, the fear that sustainable measures are more expensive and imperil companies’ economic viability is unfounded. In may cases, sustainable thinking and economic thinking go hand in hand. It’s true that implementing optimisation measures usually involves investment, but this is often amortised after a few years. The use of photovoltaic systems is one example. Procurement and installation initially give rise to costs, but in the long term they will pay for themselves through savings in energy purchasing.

However, we must also remember that companies can only implement sustainable strategies if the economic conditions are right. Our Managing Director, Dirk Assmann, already stressed this point in an interview he gave in 2020.

ASSMANN has already been out in front as a sustainability pioneer in the furnishing sector for years. How is ASSMANN orienting its sustainability strategy for the next few years? What concrete objectives are you pursuing?

We’re currently working on our new materiality analysis. As prescribed by the CRSD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive), this considers both the inside-out and outside-in perspectives. The results will determine how we orient ourselves strategically and act commercially. I can already predict that we will concentrate on energy targets: and here, reducing our electricity consumption and generating power in-house will be the primary focus. In addition, we’d like to increase resource efficiency and use more recycled material.

Can you specify any other measures that ASSMANN is using as part of its drive to achieve optimisations in sustainability in the near future?

Because the energy issue is particularly important to us, we’re planning a few measures in this field and trying to get them implemented quickly. The installation of a new PV plant at our new logistics centre will soon be going ahead. The calculated total output of 660 kWp will be used entirely for in-house supply. We’re also focusing on using eco-friendlier alternatives to our existing equipment. For example, we’re gradually converting our vehicle fleet and plan to have exclusively electric cars for our field staff by 2026. Upgrading to energy-efficient lighting and eliminating compressed air leakages are now standard practice, but we mustn’t neglect them during the ongoing optimisation.

What sustainability topics and projects are you particularly looking forward to in 2024?

In the coming year, we’ll be publishing our new Sustainability Report for the year 2023. For this, we’re already aligning ourselves with the new regulations of the EU-wide reporting requirement, the CRSD (Corporate Social Responsibility Directive). These do not apply to us until 2026, but – as is customary at ASSMANN -– in this case too we’re planning on #getting ahead and pre-empting the upcoming obligation. The preparations are already in progress. Many outcomes from our sustainability team’s projects are coming together here, such as strategic planning, preparation of key figures and collaboration with our internal and external ambassadors.

Finally: how is sustainability reflected in your everyday life?

Sustainability is also very important for me in my private life. I take care to make as many journeys as possible by public transport. I also use the train for commuting to work from Münster to Melle-Westerhausen. In my home town of Münster, my bicycle often affords an alternative to the car for short trips. I also attach importance to mindful consumption. When shopping at the weekend, I prefer to buy regional and seasonal products and also, where clothing or other textiles are concerned, I prefer to choose products that are produced according to environmentally friendly and socially responsible standards. It is my belief that each individual can make their own contribution towards a more sustainable world.