BMW i3 vor Windrädern

The sum-total of possibilities.

Companies can significantly reduce their carbon footprint at individual locations with prudent and intelligent concepts. Markus Seidel, who is responsible for sustainability projects at BMW Group Forschung, explains how:

Hello Mr Seidel, the BMW Group operates a research and technology centre in Garching near Munich, the Forschungs- und Technologiehaus (FTH). Here, hundreds of engineers, scientists and researchers from a wide variety of fields work together on the future of mobility in a large think tank.

This term does not sufficiently describe what we do. We do not see ourselves just as a think tank, but rather as a “make tank” because, in addition to forward-looking ideas and concepts, at the BMW Group we also want to develop innovations in such a way that they end up on our roads. Therefore, the FTH collaborates with institutes and universities as well as start-ups on the technologies of the future.

One of the key topics in this context, which you even approach from two sides, is sustainability: on the one hand with regard to innovations for future vehicles and services offered by the BMW Group. On the other hand, by implementing very concrete measures at your place of work in the organisation.

At our site we have a situation that a lot of companies ought to be familiar with. Many of our employees face a long commute in order to get here and thus need to drive on a regular basis. We also work in a large building that requires heat and electricity to run it. Around a year ago, we took the decision to become a “lighthouse” for sustainability within the BMW Group. The objective is to reduce our carbon footprint significantly and share what we learn in the process with others.

What approach do you take to achieve these goals?

Our building was already planned to a very high sustainability standard and we can build on this. The structure is well insulated and heated by a geothermal system. Electricity is produced by our own photovoltaics plant, which we are currently expanding. These systems are supported by various smaller individual measures that add up to make a big difference: we have, for example, adapted our ventilation concept in order to conserve energy. In addition, lights switch off automatically when they are not needed. In this way we are already saving the equivalent annual energy consumption of 25 family homes. Furthermore, we are conscious of our consumption of resources and avoid waste wherever possible. One of our initiatives is in everybody's hands: our coffee cup sharing system.

You have also held workshops to explore the palpable benefits changes in the way employees travel to work could have...

...without making it any less convenient for them. It is important to point this out because we achieve far better results by offering practical solutions instead of just decreeing more sustainability. We are all about finding smart solutions that people actually use. The FTH is in an ideal position because we have many innovators working here who also think about sustainability in their spare time. So, we keep asking our employees to contribute their own thoughts and ideas on this topic. And the suggestions keep coming. We even hold ideas competitions. Another initiative is short conferences with top management in order to receive feedback on those ideas. This provides additional motivation.

Which ideas have already been implemented?

We now run, for example, a zero-emissions shuttle bus between the FTH and the campus of the BMW Group's Forschungs- und Innovationszentrum (FIZ). We are electrifying our fleet and improving the charging infrastructure for electric employee vehicles – for example by increasing the number of charging stations and dedicated parking spaces. We consider Charge@Work a key factor for making electrification successful. And for the growing number of people who cycle to work we have installed showers and changing rooms. We are also currently piloting an electric bike sharing system.

Which fundamental experiences can you share with us?

For the BMW Group, sustainability is a key factor in the development of our premium range of vehicles and for our future in general. Therefore, we want to include it in all aspects of our core business. From sourcing raw materials to recycling end-of-life vehicles, but also in terms of the way the organisation itself is run. This 360-degree approach is very important. However, we have noticed that many institutions only look at individual aspects rather than the big picture. And the public often only sees individual projects being recognised instead of all-encompassing concepts, even though those have a bigger impact. It is the interaction and synergy of many different measures that brings about success. We want to play our part in focusing people's minds on this holistic way of looking at sustainability.