Jörg Hoffmann has been at Wilkhahn since 2008 and studied environmental science at the universities of Lüneburg and Warsaw. As the head of quality and sustainability, he’s in charge of continuing to develop quality management in line with ISO 9001 certification and environmental management in compliance with EMAS, ISO 14001 and the guidelines issued by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). In 2018, Jörg Hoffmann was awarded B.A.U.M. e.V.’s environmental prize for his exemplary commitment to environmental protection and sustainability.
Jörg, you’re Wilkhahn’s sustainability manager. Responsibility for the environment is one of the goals that the company has been pursuing since its supervisory board’s resolution on ecology in 1989 at the latest. And since 2002, Wilkhahn’s environmental management system has had certification to the standard prescribed by the European Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). That’s a long time, during which the expectations and demands have also evolved. What are the issues you’re currently grappling with?
By increasing energy efficiency and reducing the use of solvents, we’ve already achieved a lot at our headquarters here in Bad Münder in Germany. And as renewables account for almost 50% of our total consumption today, we’ve also made remarkable progress in cutting CO2 emissions. Over the next few years, we want to continue to curtail energy consumption and boost the proportion of renewables so that carbon dioxide emissions will decrease again significantly. For 2022, our goal will be for green energy sources to generate two of the three kilowatt hours of power we require here. Which is why we are, of course, looking at energy efficiency in our business premises and whether new technologies can help us in this respect, i. e. through further investments in LED lighting.
Due to our diverse and increasingly international suppliers, I think ensuring that supply chains are sustainable is another key task. In this case, the environment and social audits are important components. And it’s becoming increasingly imperative that parts are shipped in a manner that’s as environmentally friendly as possible. Over the past two years, we’ve dramatically cut waste and emissions during transportation by using a current total of over 6,000 reusable shipping boxes. And this is the route we will be continuing on.
Reconciling ecological, financial and social goals is a complex task and probably often causes conflicts in terms of objectives. How do you create concrete goals that pledge to make a real contribution to sustainability and that are, above all, achievable?
Luckily, there are lots of measures that offer financial, ecological and social benefits if put into place. Each kilowatt hour of energy not consumed doesn’t just save emissions but also makes a tangible contribution to cutting costs. And this saving can, in turn, be invested in making permanent improvements for the workforce and the environment. At Wilkhahn, we primarily assess what the ideas entail. Even if the financial aspects are just as important, a good idea won’t be rejected just becomes it only pays for itself after several years.
We’re systematically developing specific ideas for each area of the company through our Sustainability Program of Action. Then the key measures are created and budgeted for after liaising with the staff responsible for the area concerned and the management team. This communication and decision-making process is a key success factor and a way of internalising which environmental and social goals are relevant and also where potential for synergy lies.
But yes, sustainability does, of course, have its price and an impact on the costs of office furniture. However, in my experience there is a close link between the quality of components and the way in which the production sites treat their workforce and deal with environmental standards. Our high quality standard probably makes it easier for us to produce furniture that’s exemplary both in ecological and social terms…
What challenges will become more relevant in future? And how will Wilkhahn face them?
We’ll be continuing to work on energy issues and on ensuring sustainable supply chains and environmentally friendly shipping. These aspects will also influence our emissions and other financial, social and ecological aspects in future too.
What’s more, I believe that using innovative and, at the same time, resource friendly materials in our products, we’ll also be able to reduce our ecological footprint, even if sales rise. Currently, the design management and product development teams are providing good ideas on how we can create real opportunities on the markets through especially eco-friendly and innovative materials. Some examples are the Foldscreen range, which is primarily made of recycled material, or the AT Mesh task chair with its mesh made of recycled plastic, for which it gained Blue Angel certification. Alongside the tried-and-tested principles of durability and repair friendliness, these innovations ensure that Wilkhahn products continue to be exemplary when it comes to the consumption of resources. The rising demand for fair and environmentally friendly furniture will help us to improve even further in this respect.
Last autumn, the previous Wilkhahn sustainability report (2017-2019) was given the Architects’ Darling Award by a panel of architects. In addition to the current environmental programme, what is different about the new sustainability report (2020-2022)?
In addition to the previously mentioned award, the 2017 report also obtained a solid place in the last ranking of sustainability reports, which, in conjunction with future e.V. and the Institut für ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung (iöw), has been carried out on a sound scientific basis for many years. Which is why we retained tried-and-tested content and structures in the revised version. At the same time, we updated all the texts, made them more concise and faster to read and included more images. We updated the general presentation of the company’s history too. The printed brochure still provides a fold-out section of 113 years of Wilkhahn history over four pages.
And of course, the Sustainability Program of Action and the associated goals and performance indicators were updated and graphics improved. Overall, the brochure offers a broad-ranging overview of why and how Wilkhahn office furniture is designed, produced and sold and what impact it has on people and the environment. Anyone who’s interested in these issues will find that this document is a lot more substantial than many annual reports. Why not take a look? It’ll be worth your while.