Daniela Bohlinger
Sustainability 24.03.2022 4 Min.
“The challenges are immense.”

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: Daniela Bohlinger.

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 its “WEffect” sustainability series, the BMW Group introduces employees who play their daily part in the broad and responsible further development of our company.

In this edition of the series, Daniela Bohlinger (53), Head of Sustainability at BMW Group Design, explains why we need a fundamental, revolutionary change.

Daniela Bohlinger

Daniela Bohlinger, you have been with the BMW Group since 2002 and have always worked in design. What motivated you to make environmentally and climate-friendly design your focus?

Daniela Bohlinger: I worked in the “colour and trim” area, which is also where we deal with the leather trim of the vehicles. We always had a lot of waste offcuts. There came a point when I felt that this was no longer ethically justifiable. So I started making suggestions on how we could use the material more cleverly. I then started to take a really close look at sustainability in design, from the supplier to the recyclability of the product. The BMW i3 and i8 were like my own children. In the design team, we took a completely fresh look at all the materials and rethought everything. When this project was over, the question hit me: How are we going to manage to design all our vehicles sustainably? So I thought about how we could translate the requirements of sustainability into design language. And, of course, how we could measure it. Because we need a radical, revolutionary change. And we need it right now. It is not enough any more to just keep upgrading.

You think very holistically about sustainability in product design. Do you also live this in your private life?

Bohlinger: My life reflects the constant attempt to juggle progress, innovations and conveniences in a way that I can defend with my conscience, my morals. This begins with the conscious use of food and ends with forgoing things that I question. My childhood in the Allgäu was also always characterised by clarity, not by excess.

What do you want to achieve with your commitment? What is your goal?

Bohlinger: Our vehicles are premium products – that is very important to me. In everything we do, the result is high-quality, precious, premium. Nothing must change in this respect when we work with sustainable materials. I anticipated this tendency in the design field, and that fills me with pride. Now everyone has to take responsibility though. Because the new demands are at a high level. We are also focusing on strategy here and changing the policies to make sure that we are not just firefighting in the short term. There are so many possibilities: we can rethink systems, reduce, substitute and look in completely new sustainable directions with our suppliers.

Daniela Bohlinger

You have been working on these issues for several years now, and it can’t have been plain sailing all the way. So other than Swabian thriftiness, what keeps you going?

Bohlinger: My motivation very much comes from within; at the same time, I read, hear and see every day how important active climate protection is. Moreover, I can do something forward-looking for the company and really make a difference at the same time. I have much more leverage here in the heart of the automotive industry than I ever would if I were involved in an NGO.

If you had three minutes to tell the Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Oliver Zipse, about your work, what would you say?  

Bohlinger: I would show him the energy we are already putting into this change today, how fundamentally important it is, and therefore how vitally important it is for us to have sufficient support and budget. We also must never stop asking ourselves the questions: Are we doing it right, are we being honest and are we setting the right priorities? Climate change is real.

What could possibly slow down this success?

Bohlinger: The tension between profitability and measurable sustainability is the most difficult challenge imaginable when trying to establish issues like these. We have to find solutions.

Daniela Bohlinger

Let’s go back to your intrinsic motivation...

Bohlinger: I want to be able to stand in front of my nieces and nephews and say with my hand on my heart: “Yes, I work in an automotive company, and I’m going at full throttle for the sake of our grandchildren’s world.” Where I can have an impact, I am going to make the world more sustainable. I don’t have to do everything myself any more though. I want to put the tools for more sustainability in the hands of the people around me. That’s why I was invited to lecture at the Design University at Umeå, Sweden, to build sustainability into the curriculum and to actively debate this holistic topic with the professors. If newly qualified designers come to us and to other companies armed with knowledge about sustainable design built into their university studies, then sustainability will finally snowball. That’s the point where it can no longer be stopped.

So is it then good enough?

Bohlinger: Better, yes. But not over. I think the question of the best way to achieve more sustainability will probably be with me all my life. And at some point I will be watching my materials actually growing in the lab and working out how we develop it from here.

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.

„WEffect – we make the BMW Group sustainable.“
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