In the “WEffect” sustainability series, the BMW Group highlights the sustainable contribution made by a wide range of people in the company – and the motivation that inspires them. Today: Thomas Becker.
Sustainability has many facets at the BMW Group because we are using this term to harmonise business, the environment and society. If we are to successfully put these high standards into practice, we need our employees’ commitment. Everyone can play their part in making the BMW Group sustainable.
So, who are all these colleagues who make sustainability part of their everyday work? What drives them to roll up their sleeves throughout the company? In the new “WEffect” sustainability series, the BMW Group introduces employees who play their daily part in the broad and responsible further development of our company.
In the fourth part of our series, Thomas Becker (55), Head of Sustainability and Mobility, reveals the pioneering role the BMW Group has in sustainability and why it takes courageous people to bring about truly sustainable change at all levels.
Thomas Becker, how would you describe your role and the function of your department?
Thomas Becker: We have created the Sustainability and Mobility department as a function that is all about integrating sustainability into the BMW Group strategy and ensuring sustainable individual mobility. True to the words of Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG: “We are not creating sustainability at BMW, we are making the BMW Group sustainable.” Ultimately, it is a matter of taking sustainability goals right down to the grass roots, integrating them into the Group target system and making the BMW Group sustainable from within. So that we can honestly and convincingly say: of course we are sustainable! My personal role is to translate needs by balancing the demands from outside and inside.
How do you define your goal in this context? What do you personally want to achieve?
Becker: I want the BMW Group to still be successful in 20 years’ time – and for the rest of the world to still hold the opinion that the world is better off with us than without us. We are very exposed in the public perception. The BMW Group stands for freedom, for individuality and differentiation. We aim to keep it that way. Sustainability has to be a self-evident prerequisite here. At the same time, we are a premium car manufacturer, and as such always in the spotlight of political debate. That is why we have to be reliable, transparent and totally plausible in everything we do. This is especially true for sustainability. Personally, I would like to be able to say at some point: we have had a harmonising effect on economic, environmental and social aspects because of our sustainability approach. I am convinced that market-based competition for sustainable solutions is the right way to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. We are following the right direction with innovations and new ideas and solve the problems.
Where are the stumbling blocks when it comes to reconciling the economy, the environment and social issues?
Becker: Overly simplistic cause-and-effect relationships in particular – for example, banning combustion engines – cause us to stumble. It’s pure fallacy that the Paris climate targets will be met merely by switching to electromobility. The real question is: How do we find sustainable new solutions that reconcile all these dimensions and demonstrate how they work? A second stumbling block is the lack of price tags. Because predictable pricing is much more effective than detailed regulations, which is why we also support emissions trading, for example.
And to ask the same from the other direction: Who or what helps bring the three dimensions together? What are the success factors?
Becker: First and foremost, we need a stringent logic on which we can tighten the screws. We must be able to evaluate and predict our measures for the next five to ten years. We need to run through scenarios of how the world is changing and deduce which is the right path. It also helps to question the paths already being trodden. Strategy means challenging everything. It is a process, an ongoing discussion, always new and full of commitment. We are, of course, already seeing success. We have set the right conditions. The BMW Group delivers the best figures when compared to other car manufacturers. We have significantly reduced the CO2 emissions of our fleet, changed the very substance and can meet EU CO2 targets. We are self-motivated to act sustainably and do not scramble after every trend. The BMW Group pioneered the development of the automatic start-stop system. Now everyone uses it. We put the BMW i3 on the road. No one was demanding that at the time. And we developed an electric motor without rare ores, simply because we are asking ourselves the right questions. Meaning, we have been searching for the best market-based solution for sustainable vehicles for a long time. And we give our customers what they are willing to spend a lot of money on. With an eye on sustainability, yes, but also with an eye on their expectations. The BMW Group is a premium manufacturer with the most stringent focus on product and quality. We want society to perceive us with these qualities, without luxury being seen as synonymous with waste.
What experiences have you had since you took over the strategy function for sustainability? Is there any one thing you are proud of?
Becker: I am now very intensively involved with the decision-making processes and the governance of the company, and in this context I also keep asking myself how we can bring the issue into business-as-usual. From my point of view, sustainability must not be a dictated behaviour. People must have the choice. But sustainable should be the new normal. It is far too early to be taking pride, it is not yet time to take stock. But the momentum coming out of the team is most encouraging. Because the motivation to drive ahead is ingrained in us – in terms of sustainability as well.
In a single sentence: What motivates you day in, day out – what drives you?
Becker: I am motivated when I have moved on again from where I was before! The company is moving forward. We are changing a lot and we are effective. We can measure our successes even when there is often no simple solution. We have to ask ourselves uncomfortable questions, bring in opinions from outside and deal with them properly. And we need courage. A lot of courage. We are making decisions from an uncertain basis, so we can only really make a best guess. We decide on the balance of probabilities: What offers the greatest probability of being the right direction? We have to repeatedly weigh things up.
So when is it good enough?
Becker: There is no end point. We can only achieve milestones along the way and make our contribution.
In the upcoming portraits from our “WEffect” sustainability series, committed colleagues will also describe their motivation and explain the contribution they are making to sustainability within the BMW Group.