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Interview with Bernd Schleich, GIZ Director Corporate Sustainability

Embedding sustainability in a company is no easy task. In an interview Bernd Schleich presents the sustainability tool used by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) – its Corporate Sustainability Handprint® (CSH).

Confronted with their own ‘ecological footprint’, companies generally find themselves up against a vast range of problems in many very different sectors. With its CSH, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) wishes to broaden the perspective to include positive aspects by asking: What have we done right?

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor in German companies. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has tasked you with developing a new approach to this issue. What is your objective?

Bernd Schleich: The objective is to position GIZ as an internationally recognised centre of excellence  for sustainability. Sustainability is a guiding principle that forms the core of our business. This guiding principle was developed in an extensive and joint corporate process. We understand sustainability as the interaction of four dimensions, namely social responsibility, ecological balance, political participation and economic capability.

Graphic: What does sustainability mean for GIZ?

How can you measure these parameters and is there any reference framework?

Bernd Schleich: Our main reference framework for sustainability is embedded in our guiding principles. Furthermore, we base our work on international sustainability standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Where we can measure the parameters, we compile data, facts and figures; with qualitative parameters one of the things we do is to describe Good Practices.

How does this concept differ from GIZ's other practices so far? What is new?

Bernd Schleich: When considering our ecological footprint, we want to take account of our positive contributions to sustainability  At the same time, we aim to systematically document and improve sustainability services in the almost 90 country offices we have worldwide.

The tool you have developed to improve sustainability is the Corporate Sustainability Handprint® (CSH). Could you please briefly explain how this tool works?

Bernd Schleich: We developed CSH to broaden our ecological footprint to include our positive contributions (handprint). It is a means of recording and improving GIZ’s corporate sustainability. CSH identifies good practices and disseminates them throughout the company. This involves a standardised procedure that our country offices go through every two years. Using parameters and a survey, we first determine the status quo of GIZ’s corporate sustainability. In this step we identify and document existing, proven solutions to sustainability issues.The ongoing status and any improvements that have already been achieved are documented in a self-assessment based on a points system. Next, the staff in the country team decide which improvements are to be achieved in the coming year or two and set themselves corresponding targets in the form of self-commitments. Staff agree on two to three objectives and document them in their country plans – these could be a reduction in CO2 emissions, awareness-raising measures or gender issues.

Video: The Corporate Sustainability Handprint® by GIZ

Who steers the processes and to what extent are the staff involved?

Bernd Schleich: The process is steered on site – that could be by the Country Director, the Administrative Manager or even by a member of our national personnel. Staff are involved in the CSH process throughout.

Would it be conceivable to apply the approach in the private sector? What would the challenges be here?

Bernd Schleich: The Corporate Sustainability Handprint® is basically designed in a way that allows it to be applied in other companies and municipalities. One of the challenges is adjusting the issues and major sustainability topics to the specific context, which is why a pilot project is scheduled for roll-out in a German municipality.

You have collected experience in development cooperation over many years. What do you personally consider has changed in this respect in recent years?

Bernd Schleich: Sustainability has become increasingly important also in the narrower context of development cooperation and international cooperation. In addition to project durability, it is also about the way in which services are delivered.

To ensure sustainable development, the United Nations have also re-formulated their Millennium Development Goals (eight MDGs up to the year 2015) to make them Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). What meaning does this re-alignment have?

Bernd Schleich: The SDGs have an extensive and integrated understanding of sustainability, as formulated for example in the Brundtland Report, and they are geared even more explicitly to all countries: In many matters of sustainability we are all developing countries. The challenge will be not to lose sight of the traditional targets embedded in the MDGs, like poverty reduction.

About Bernd Schleich

Until the end of 2015, Bernd Schleich was the Director of Corporate Sustainability at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. He studied social science and business education at the University of Göttingen. Since 1979, he has worked in various development cooperation institutions. From 1993 through to 2002 he was the Managing Director of the Carl Duisberg Society and subsequently Managing Director of InWEnt – Capacity Building International.

Discussion about Corporate Sustainability

How do you like the idea of using good practices to advance corporate sustainability? Is a tool such as the CSH any good for improving sustainability performance? Are there any companies that you think are on the right track? Discuss corporate sustainability with us and other alumni in the comments below.

Interview: Miriam Moser

January 2015

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