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: Stefan Fenchel.
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 second part of the series, Stefan Fenchel (52), Project Manager Green Plant Leipzig, explains how important it is to motivate other people to protect the environment.
Stefan Fenchel, the “Green Plant Leipzig” is your project; you built it up along with others and run it today. What can our readers expect here? I take it flowering meadows on the plant premises is not the whole story...
Stefan Fenchel: The simplest way to think of it is as a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces have to fit together perfectly. The “Green Plant” aims to bring the puzzle pieces of ecology, economy and social issues together. We have divided this social sustainability into internal and external impacts. To make the pieces of the puzzle fit, we ask ourselves several questions in everything we do: Does that really make ecological sense? Is that economically feasible? Who do we want to work with for this? How do we reach our employees? Our “Vision Zero Emission Factory” is as old as the Leipzig plant itself. We have wind turbines, a battery storage farm and Germany’s first indoor hydrogen filling station for logistics vehicles. And of course we produce the BMW i vehicles. These are all real milestones. The flowering meadows, our fruit trees as well as the beehives on the plant premises are just as much a part of this, because we have been promoting the “compatibility of industry and nature” for as long as the plant has existed. This makes us a model project for industrial culture in Germany.
What drives you to push these issues forward? You’re actually a chemist.
Fenchel: I have been curious about nature since I was a child. I have always wanted to protect and support it in my own way. I was initially in research as a chemist. But then I decided that I wanted to take active responsibility and drive change forward. The most effective way to do that is in industry, which is why I went to BMW. We initially set up the “Green Plant” project in parallel with our line functions, and it has only been my full-time job since 2020. It comes at exactly the right time, though, because the explosiveness of climate issues is on the rise. Reduction of CO2 is of particular importance.
Is there anything within the project that you are particularly proud of?
Fenchel: Our “Green Plant” is an enabler project. These sorts of projects do not result in a product, but they enable others to do something which moves a development forward. That’s why I’m already so proud of the project as a whole. In my view, the biggest tangible success of our work so far is the hydrogen pipeline. If everything goes according to plan, this will come to fruition in the next few years and then supply the plant with green hydrogen. Of course, this has a completely different effect than the flowering meadows. It is a step that moves us from being a CO2 polluter to being a driver in carbon minimisation. That’s why I currently spend almost 90 per cent of my time on issues that are extremely political. At the same time, the meadows, the bees and the plant’s own apple juice also form part of my role. That’s quite a balancing act, but I’m fascinated by this breadth. Of course, not everything always goes smoothly, not everything works straight away. I have been trying to win people over to our issues for years, to get them excited – but many simply can’t find the time to care about sustainability as well. But whilst understanding their stance, such negative reactions are nevertheless disappointing for an idealist like me.
Who or what encourages you to continue in such moments? What helps?
Fenchel: Above all else, it’s the enthusiasm and interest that I then experience in others. These are colleagues who simply join in completely independently of their line function – and help with the apple harvest, for example. It also helps that the Board of Management emphasises that we are making the BMW Group sustainable from within. And that sustainability is now one of its established goals. So the IF is no longer the question. It’s now about the HOW.
Is there anything you can file under “Learnt”?
Fenchel: Yes – sustainability is a way of designing and thinking things through. This starts with small, everyday things and extends to the political big picture. Unfortunately, it is still an issue for the absolute idealist. And as an idealist, I have to learn again and again not to get frustrated when others don’t understand me and my way of thinking. In my private space, I have learnt to give nature more space in my own garden and to be more aware of biodiversity. My interest in sustainable products has also increased, as has my interest in setting the political course with regard to the energy transition and climate protection.
Let’s say you meet Oliver Zipse, the Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG. He asks: “How can I help you to make the Green Plant in Leipzig a success? What do you need most right now?” You have one minute to answer. What do you say?
Fenchel: "Thoroughly embed sustainability in all line functions. Make leaders understand that sustainability is a way of doing things and thinking things through – not just an add-on.” This attitude is so important! Sustainability should not be bogus labelling or something we pay lip service to because the boss wants it. Then we lose all credibility. It would be nothing more than 'greenwashing'.
Aside from the purely professional side of things, your commitment, your personal drive is very intrinsic. Can you sum up in one sentence where your drive comes from?
Fenchel: For one thing, there is my view of the world: we have been given something, we are responsible for it. And secondly, of course, there are my seven children. They can only have what we leave them to build on and only learn from the example we set.
So when is it enough?
Fenchel: It's getting better all the time. I will never stop striving for something better. Every little step forward is good and makes me really happy. A master assembler once said to me: “It's not sustainable unless it really sustains”.
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.