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: Roland Zeller.
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 our series, Roland Zeller, Head of Energy Operations at the BMW Group plant in Dingolfing, talks about insect mortality, tailwinds and the possibility of producing hydrogen using dead wood.
Roland Zeller, you have been committed to better environmental protection at the Dingolfing plant for many years. Where does this commitment come from?
Roland Zeller: Actually, it was the culmination of many experiences. Whether it was storm Kyrill in 2012, which knocked down many trees in my spruce forest, or the bark beetle. The experience of having so few insects stuck on the windscreen in the hot summer of 2018. Or the year we watched the bees die because someone had used staggering amounts of weed killer. These experiences were not something that I have simply noted though. I have always tried to actively do something about them. As a result, I have been intensively involved with sustainability. And because I think very comprehensively, I also wanted to bring it home more forcefully to the company. Professionally, I am responsible for the energy supply at the Dingolfing site. We decide in my department on the energy needed in the plant. So we are the key point – and of course my goal is for us to become largely CO2-neutral at the site. The BMW Group as a whole will make all our locations CO2-neutral through offsetting from 2021. In my department, we want to make as much of a contribution as we can towards this goal through our own efforts. We started activities to make the plant greener several years ago. We were asked to put ideas forward. The suggestions flooded in – from flowering meadows to beehives – and we just got going, making the plant more sustainable piece by piece. In the beginning, colleagues almost looked on our work with amusement. Today, it’s not considered odd any more. The level of acceptance is high. And there are some really great ideas. For example, we are thinking about the possibility of producing hydrogen. Dead wood from forests and untreated disposable pallets are a very environmentally-friendly way to provide energy for production. This way, we get CO2-positive energy and also save money.
Apart from the professional goal of making the plant CO2-neutral: what do you personally want to achieve?
Zeller: We are using up our resources far too quickly! This must change if we want to stop climate change. I want to do my part to make sure we do not take more from our earth than we have available. Unfortunately, the problem is that although sustainable management does pay off in the end – it is neither quick nor immediately visible. Besides, we will have soon exhausted the easy-to-reach areas. We’re left now with the more complex issues that take more effort.
Where do you already see successes and what are you proud of?
Zeller: At the moment we have a real tailwind! The entire economy is starting to follow suit, which is having a positive impact on costs. And if we can communicate our beacon projects well, the next step, the next idea will often emerge from that. Because one thing is also clear: hydrogen from residual wood-chip heating is not the single solution, just as solar or wind energy are not single solutions. In the long run, only a mix of different forms of renewable energy will do the trick. Personally, I am really proud of the commitment shown by everyone. Our young colleagues in particular are providing real momentum because they can do something for their own future themselves. They are so motivated, they see a purpose. That is extremely enjoyable. It’s not just the youngsters though – the commitment is visible at all levels of the hierarchy!
Imagine you can make one wish with Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of the BMW Group. What would you say?
Zeller: My wish would be for Mr Zipse to articulate very clearly once again: sustainability and the circular economy now come above everything else. This is our top priority, we are very serious about this. We know this will cost us money. But we actively want to invest this money.
What is this going to do? Can one sentence stop climate change?
Zeller: No, of course not. But a statement like that would make a real difference, both in the company and beyond the BMW Group. We have enormous influence, the industry looks up to us. If we get the leverage right and implement all these ideas we have, it will first of all create a lot for our company. When we succeed, though, many other companies will follow suit – and it will begin to snowball. This prospect keeps me going every day.
So, when is it good enough?
Zeller: It’s good here at the Dingolfing plant when our production is CO2-neutral. For me personally, however, it will always continue with other projects. I never run out of ideas anyway.
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.