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: Sue Orme.
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 seventh part of the series, Sue Orme (54), Environmental Manager at the BMW Group in the UK, talks about plastic bottles, the simplest definition of sustainability and her pride in the commitment of the BMW Group.
Sue Orme, you are responsible for environmental management at the BMW Group Sales Company UK, specifically in After Sales. What are you dealing with at the moment?
Sue Orme: I spend most of my time visiting our vehicle and parts distribution centres. It is about complying with all legal regulations as a matter of course, as well as designing and offering our products and services as sustainably as possible. Of course, the CO2 strategy of the BMW Group is ever-present and we check where and how we can make our contribution. I think it’s just great that this environmental momentum is coming from the highest level. It makes life so much easier for us environmentalists. That’s one side of it. The other is that we are expected to lead the way – and sustainability is a very broad field. So far, I have always quoted the Brundtland definition when people ask me what sustainability actually is: “Sustainable is living now in such a way that future generations can live the way they want to live.” But I think it’s even easier. The shortest dictionary definition of “sustainability” is: “the ability to carry on”. Without this ability, nothing can continue: not the economy, nor social society, nor the environment. It’s as simple as that.
Where are the stumbling blocks on your way? And who or what helps you cope with them?
Orme: The BMW Group in the UK is a really varied organisation: we own some of the properties at the sites, others are rented, and a contractor runs the buildings in other cases. Depending on individual circumstances, we can either prescribe rules or just try and persuade people – from waste disposal to heating control. But where we have no real influence, it can delay everything. It also helps convince people that the public perception of the environment and sustainability has turned around. A few months ago I discovered that we are still selling water to our retailers in throw-away plastic bottles. 200,000 of them each year! So I stated the obvious to the management, and simply pointed out that we have to change this because it is incompatible with the BMW Group goals. I also work closely with internal communications and the environmental team at the Oxford plant – together, we can drive major change. I feel very lucky to be in this profession.
So how did it come about that this was the profession you chose? What motivates you to stand up for the environment, and how does this affect your life as a whole? Listening to you, it sounds not so much a job, more like a way of life.
Orme: My father got me interested in environmental issues and nature when I was a small child. We were camping in France and watched the moths and insects attracted to the light. I think that’s when it started – I was five years old at the time. Since then, nature and the environment have been my overriding passion. I don’t want to do anything else. In the process, what I do at work affects my personal life and vice versa. Moreover, on my earlier travels I learned how good we have it here in our country – especially in comparison to other countries. So far, science has helped us overcome many problems. I just wonder how we will manage to cope with climate change.
These are certainly the big questions. But back to your immediate surroundings: What sort of experiences have you had in your new role? Is there anything you would file under “Learnt”?
Orme: Moving from the factory to the sales organisation has opened up some new experiences for me. For example, I’ve never really looked into the laws governing the launch of products until now. But our legislation has progressed so far that product manufacturers are responsible for transparency about life cycle costs – and ultimately for disposal as well. That was a bit of a shock for me, because I am responsible for these reports in my role. But it was also a wake-up call because we have to deal with it, and the responsibility clearly lies with manufacturers. I think that’s great. That’s how it should be.
If you look at your work and projects now: What are you particularly proud of?
Orme: This is going to sound really cheesy – but it’s BMW.
Why is that?
Orme: Well, the July 2020 press release from Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, took many of us by surprise. Not even we environmentalists knew about it beforehand. But he did it, it was like a big bang, and he followed it through. “We are making the BMW Group sustainable.” When you think about it, that in itself is so bold. Just these few words – but a whole massive change! Of course it begs the question: How can it be sustainable to put cars on the road? But our development proves that it can be done. We’re going in the right direction. That is a really great feeling.
Is that also your motivation to keep on going each day?
Orme: I am motivated by the fact that my work gives me satisfaction. And the fact that management and staff want to do the right thing in our sales company – and I’m the one who can help them do it.
And when is it good enough? When do you see the work towards sustainability as done?
Orme: As I said: sustainability is the ability to go on. There will never be a point at which nothing can be done any better. We are fortunate to be sitting on our little island and have some influence over what happens here. But there is always a lot to do in the world. The BMW Group is a truly global company. There will never be an end for them.
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.