Promoting education and training has always played an important role for REHAU. These activities also therefore form part of the company’s sustainability strategy. The most recent trainee project, which concluded in spring 2020, combined many different aspects of sustainability – the international group of trainees worked together on a project focusing on the circular economy, and formulated their vision for increased sustainability at REHAU.
Networks are the key to the circular economy
REHAU is one of "50 Sustainability & Climate Leaders" - Insights into our sustainability activities - REHAU Trainees and their vision of a sustainable circular economy
The title of the trainee project was ‘Circular economy: New business models for REHAU’ and it ran under the supervision of Roger Schoenborn, REHAU Head of Division Building Solutions, and our Sustainability Officer Andreas Jenne.
Amber Jiang from Taicang was one of the eight trainees who made up the most recent cohort. We spoke to her about the project:
Amber, how did you as a group end up exploring the subject of the circular economy for your trainee project?
We are all aware that we have only one planet. Because we are greatly concerned by the urgent challenges facing us, we wanted to establish a project relating to sustainability. We recognised that we needed to address the ‘problem’ at the source, to prevent future waste altogether. As a manufacturer of high-quality, durable polymer products, our influence on this is small, and yet even we are called to find solutions for the future and should be working harder on concepts that function in joined-up cycles – this is where we find solutions for a more sustainable environment.
You concentrated specifically on developing new business models in the area of building technology. What was your approach to this?
At a workshop with the BMI Lab in St. Gallen, we had the opportunity to test an approach developed in conjunction with the University of St. Gallen to develop circular economy business models. We applied this approach as the methodology for our whole project.
The foundation for developing our circular economy business model was formed through detailed research and discussions with various stakeholders, both internal and external. In the course of this, we established that REHAU has the expertise and the ability to develop highly sustainable business models and products. It is simply a matter of creating the right internal and external conditions to do so.
What stood out for you in your market analysis? What particular challenges are there today?
Everyone is talking about sustainability, but in our market environment in particular, we find it very difficult to react to the fullest extent and to be really target-oriented.
In my view that is primarily due to the fact that we deal with technically highly complex products, where a material cannot simply be replaced. In addition, the political framework is often not right and it’s almost impossible to bring truly ‘circular’ business models onto the market. That’s precisely why I find it all the more important to be really daring and move the work forward.
There will come a time when simple, linear products no longer measure up to current standards of technology or are even no longer allowed.
What is essential for putting the circular economy principle into practise? Where should companies start?
Reduce, reuse & recycle or even better redesign – these are the most important principles. But products should be sustainable from the start. That means everything should begin with circular economy principles – even at the product design stage. On the other hand, new construction materials need to be developed further. The support of various interest groups and external networks is ultimately crucial for achieving a circular economy.
What was the most important insight for you from the project? Have your results been well received within the company and are they being followed up?
As I see it, our greatest success has been creating a renewed and heightened awareness of the circular economy as a topic within the company, and showing that the time has come to rethink products and business models more drastically in relation to long-term sustainability. I think that, on the one hand, we were able to shed light on the question of ‘why’ very well, but we also provided insight into the methodological side, the ‘how’.
I have really noticed how our corporate mindset has benefited from this. Even six months after our presentation, I am still frequently approached by colleagues and asked for advice.
What have you personally taken away from this trainee project?
It was an excellent team effort with a diverse group of inspiring people. We were able to develop valuable networks and together move this fantastic project forward. I really appreciated how we motivated each other to push boundaries, and that we all learned a lot in this project.
‘I am very impressed by the incredible commitment shown by these young and motivated colleagues. They quickly recognised the complexity and our challenges, and were able to provide a lot of food for thought, which we take very seriously. Concrete topics and projects have already emerged, which we will continue to work on, in order to intensify the principles of the circular economy. In the trainee project I was particularly pleased with the diversity of the group, which showed that amazing results can be achieved when there are a variety of perspectives.’
Roger Schoenborn, Head of Division Building Solutions
´As a project mentor, I want to emphasize that the three new business models developed were "Outstanding". The project has shown what great potential lies in diverse international groups. This is especially true as this project and the topic of circular economy has required a completely new way of thinking among the trainees. They have acquired this systemic thinking very well during the project. The overall result has exceeded my expectations.’
Andreas Jenne, REHAU Sustainability Officer
‘A completely new approach is needed to do business in a circular economy. This makes it all the more important to take all employees at REHAU on this journey and to expand our training opportunities accordingly. Even during employee onboarding we present sustainability with special attention. As these onboarding seminars are currently being delivered virtually we also invite our long-serving employees to further inform them about REHAU's activities, and in particular about sustainability.’
Renate Policzer-Mundt, Director of Leadership & Development
‘For me, already integrating aspects of sustainability into our apprenticeship program has always been a matter of course. That starts with the eco-friendly use of resources – so for example process technology, which is also an area where we use a lot of recycled materials. Furthermore, our apprentices engage with issues around efficient energy management and get involved in a wide range of social projects. At our site in Visbek, for instance, all the apprentices spend time working in a care home or support ‘World Cleanup Day’ with lots of great activities. This makes me very proud and encourages me to continue along this path.’
Michael von Hertell, Head of Vocational Education & Training
REHAU joins initiative 50 SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE LEADERS
We're proud to join the 50 Sustainability & Climate Leaders initiative as one of 50 leading companies that have implemented measures to shape their business models in a more sustainable manner.