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: Sina von Walter.
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 part of the series, Sina von Walter, designer at BMW, talks about the sustainable processing of leather, consumption and the right blend of ecological and economic thinking.
Sina von Walter, what does the vehicle of the future look like to you?
Sina von Walter: Very noble and not overtly sustainable at first glance, even though that is its design. Sustainability is more important than the look. Our customers expect that from us. However, we still have to satisfy their tastes – only then can we really bring sustainability to the streets.
You work in design now and one of your main focuses is processing leather. How do you see the use of leather fitting with the idea of sustainability?
von Walter: Leather is often very durable and long-lasting, so I don’t automatically assume that faux leather is always the better alternative. If I need crude oil to produce a material, that doesn’t make the end product any better. When it comes to CO2 emissions, it depends on when you start the timeline on sustainability: from the animal’s birth or only from the slaughterhouse. How you handle the leather, how you tan or dye it is also a contributing factor. A lot is happening in terms of “Beyond Leather”, but we have to look closely there too.
What is your goal here? What do you personally want to achieve – and what can slow you down?
von Walter: As a designer, I want to create a product that is durable, gives pleasure for a long time – and something that will be willingly bought. Our vehicles are durable products. That means we have to be five years ahead of the trend and meet the customer demands of the future. Because it only makes sense if customers are also buying our sustainability. The latest studies show that it is not so important for vehicles to actually look sustainable. It simply needs to be. People take it for granted that the automotive industry will be green in the future. Basically, I am concerned with the question of how we keep the earth liveable for future generations – and what investment we have to make for this, how much we have to commit. It is always prudent to be cautious when you are particularly mindful of the personal interests of individuals. That’s when sustainability can easily become greenwashing and slow down progress towards the actual goal.
Who or what helps you to achieve this goal? And what successes do you see?
von Walter: The general hunger for change helps a lot. We are creating a real, visible output – that also motivates me every day. We have mobilised the whole supply chain in the last few months with suppliers making us great offers after hearing our briefing. This is tremendous fun. It’s often a generational issue though: the younger generation is much more active, but they also have a lot more to lose. It also helps, of course, when we know that our customers are willing to pay for sustainability. After all, the company fully intends to keep going and enjoy long-term success.
Does your professional preoccupation with sustainability have an effect on how you go about things away from work as well? Or vice versa?
von Walter: It’s a two-way effect, but I usually bring more ideas from my home world to the office. I also keep challenging myself: do I have to print anything out or can I do more on the screen? How do I deal with things? Can I use this or that again, wear it longer or repair it? As a designer, I naturally advocate consumption. But I have changed my personal clothing ideals and things have changed around me. No longer must everything be brand new and the latest fashion. This makes us more genuine, more authentic. Ultimately though, we in the design world, but also the automotive industry as a whole, continue to serve the consumer. Nevertheless, a radical shift in thinking is underway here. Privately, I have been on the quest for sustainability for much longer, because as a diver I discovered the sea for myself. When you love something, you perceive it differently – and of course I collect the rubbish! Moreover, I feel my own responsibility much more acutely since the birth of my first child. This changes you significantly.
The BMW Group is rethinking, sustainability is lived from within – but it is also still a new field. What sort of experiences have you had?
von Walter: One of the powerful experiences is that I not only have the courage to change something myself, but that I am also allowed to do this – and can do it. What I think and say gets heard. This creates great conversations, but also fierce discussions. That can get exhausting sometimes and I have to put up with someone else thinking differently. Change is inspiring and motivating. But it also creates potential for conflict because so many opinions are opposed. Nevertheless, I am proud and happy to be part of this change.
In a single sentence: what motivates you every day to stand up and defend your point of view, but also to endure opposing opinions?
von Walter: It’s this urge to create change. And it’s the desire to create things. I also want to continue to experience this planet as it is. Nature is so beautiful.
So, when is it good enough?
von Walter: Actually, it’s never good enough. You can always improve more, always go further. I’m just learning to be content sometimes though. Because the time we have is limited.
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.