Illustration of SCHOTT Sustrainability Team starting an expedition towards more sustainability.

Expedition Sustainability

For SCHOTT, sustainability is more than just a trend – it's a significant and extraordinary journey. For continued success in the market, the company focuses on ecological, economic, and social responsibility in harmony – while making the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) an integral part of its global sustainability agenda.

David Klein, Sustainability Manager at SCHOTT

By David Klein

9 min read

tl;dr: Sustainability is more than just a trend, it's a significant and extraordinary journey.

  • SCHOTT focuses on the harmony of ecological, economic, and social responsibility.
  • The company's focus is on the UN SDGs Climate Action, Responsible Consumption & Production, Good Health & Wellbeing, and Gender Equality.
  • With the help of the workforce and partners along the value chain, David Klein, as Sustainability Manager at SCHOTT, wants to create structures, processes, and synergies to make the journey easier for everyone.

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” That's how Tolkien describes the dangers of adventuring in Lord of the Rings. I feel that sustainability is a similar adventure. You leave home for a short time, go to sea with the navy, study logistics, become a management consultant - and finally end up responsible for sustainability at a manufacturer of high-tech materials.

My path to this point has been a journey on its own, and what lies ahead can often seem just as winding. We encounter sustainable topics every day, enough to form a jungle of undiscovered and unknown – it is a thriving ecosystem that is constantly growing and needs to be explored.

I love nature and find endless fascination in how things grow. You can find me hiking or riding my bike at any time of year, appreciating our shared responsibility to protect our ecosystems and the planet we live on.

In October 2022, I took a job I didn’t even know existed. I am now responsible for consolidating all sustainability activities of the company under one, central company-wide sustainability strategy. To that end, the question arises: “What exactly lies ahead, and how can we come together to traverse the jungle of abbreviations, acronyms, and buzzwords without causing permanent damage?”


Finding our own way

Every expedition begins with courage. And navigating the modern sustainability debate is like an expedition into unexplored – and sometimes impassable – terrain. Those who get involved will have to find a way through the ensuing thicket of natural science, philosophy, and economics.

At SCHOTT, the introduction of the Sustainability Program itself marks the first, important step of this journey. We are building on initiatives that have already been launched, including the Zero Carbon Program and our EHS Program – both of which already combine many aspects of environment, health, and safety.

The various dimensions of sustainability

Taking a holistic view of sustainability and making the right decisions requires new structures and strategies. This is why SCHOTT has launched the Corporate Sustainability Program. Here, three dimensions of sustainability are considered:

Ecological sustainability involves the conscious use of the environment and finite resources such as water, energy, and other raw materials. It also involves keeping emissions low, minimizing environmental pollution, and protecting biospheres.

Economic sustainability means forward-looking management to survive on the market and, at the same time, investments in modern machinery, the purchase of high-quality raw materials, fair pay and attractive working conditions for employees as innovation drivers.

Social sustainability focuses on issues such as human rights, responsibility for local social structures and overall social commitment. Diversity, inclusion, equality, health, and safety of all employees are equally important elements of responsible social management.

Illustration of SCHOTT's journey towards more sustainability that leads through a jungle of terms and acronyms.

SCHOTT's journey towards more sustainability leads through a jungle of terms and acronyms.

Besides courage, all adventures must begin from a place of honesty and authenticity. With that in mind, it is undeniable that, as a commercial enterprise, our primary purpose is to optimize our own profitability rather than focus solely on saving the planet. However, being profitable means being able to invest in modern machines and technologies, research, high-quality raw materials, fair pay, and further training of employees.


Our origin: A unique company model

We don’t know all the answers, but that hasn’t stopped us from beginning this journey towards sustainability. Thankfully, however, we’re not completely starting from scratch. This is because SCHOTT, as a foundation company, has a unique company model.

Acting responsibly is part of our company history. Our founding fathers Ernst Abbe and Otto Schott proved to be social revolutionaries at the end of the 19th century and decisively shaped the social transformation of German industry. The results of these socially sustainable reforms are still enshrined today in the founding statute of the Carl Zeiss Foundation; they form the basis for the responsible and equitable treatment of all employees.

The Carl Zeiss Foundation is our sole shareholder. The purpose of the foundation is to “promote the sciences,” which it does using the dividends of its companies. Every year, the foundation supports research programs, chairs, and scholarships in the fields of mathematics, computer science, natural sciences, and technology. Fulfilling this is also a sustainable goal that requires economic and long-term thinking.

Responsible corporate governance does not end with environmental and social issues. It extends across all dimensions of the company’s activity and is thus directly related to other sustainability aspects and human rights along our value chains.

Doing business sustainably while continuing to grow is not a contradictory idea for SCHOTT. The finite nature of resources, human rights, and morals must be respected – a strategic decision and challenge that we continuously face.

But companies and society must act economically in a way that does not do harm to future generations, which is why responsibility for people and the environment is one of our company values.

Innovations make sustainability a particularly exciting topic. Often it is technical milestones that lead to more sustainable and efficient operations. For example, our path to climate-neutral production will be implemented, to a large extent, thanks to the development of new technologies in the energy-intensive glass melting process.

Illustration of a statue of the SCHOTT pioneers who layed the foundation for SCHOTT as a sustainable company.

Responsibility in the DNA: The pioneers of SCHOTT have laid the foundation for today's sustainability efforts.

Goals for a better world

In 2015, the United Nations set 17 goals for a more sustainable and peaceful future. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are targets for governments, institutions, and companies that seek to make a joint contribution to the sustainable development of our society and most are to be achieved globally and by all UN member states by 2030.

Learn more 

17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Four SDGs in focus

On our expedition through the sustainability jungle, the values anchored in our history are our equipment, and the Corporate Sustainability Program our base camp. It is a pragmatic goal-oriented approach that creates a common home for all sustainability topics. We are guided by the sustainability goals of the United Nations, but the key is to focus on goals where we can have the greatest impact as a company.

Our goals and SDGs:

Becoming climate-neutral in our production by 2030 = 13 Climate Action = Limiting the rise in global temperatures and meeting the Paris climate targets. As an energy-intensive company, we are committed to this goal and want to further reduce emissions. On this ambitious journey, technological change, 100% green power, energy efficiency, and offsetting (as a last option) play important roles.

Using resources responsibly = 12 Responsible Consumption & Production = efficient use of resources through recycling, circular business models and value chains, and avoidance of hazardous waste. The goal is to work with customers and partners to create circular value chains and new opportunities for recycling, and to reduce waste along the value chains.

Improving lives = 3 Good Health & Wellbeing = containing disease and promoting access to healthcare services and products for all. Our contribution is anchored in our company history, which looks back on decades of developing specialty glass and polymer products. They serve as containers for medicines and vaccines or provide important components for diagnostics. We are also committed to the health and wellbeing of our employees and stakeholders along the value chain.

Promoting diversity = 5 Gender equality = abolition of all forms of discrimination against women and promotion of equal participation in public life. With the foundation statute of 1896, SCHOTT anchored one of the first prohibitions of discrimination – also regarding gender. Today, in our Best Teams program, for example, we promote equal opportunities for women and men with a family-oriented personnel policy. We don’t limit ourselves to gender equality, but rather promote diversity and inclusion at all levels and in different dimensions.

Taken as a whole, the goals chosen are by no means more important than goals such as ending world hunger and eliminating poverty. However, we believe it is these four areas where our contribution can make a real difference.

Illustration outlook towards a more sustainable future.

Together we can make it possible: A bright outlook to a more sustainable future.

Ready for an adventure?

How prepared are we for our sustainability expedition? And, if we are not mindful, where will our feet take us?

Here, too, I would like to quote Tolkien, who wrote “Not all those who wander are lost.” The challenges are complex and demanding. We have a long road ahead of us through a jungle of concepts, regulations, and difficult decisions.  But we are embarking on this journey together, along our value chains, with our partners and our workforce – the heart of our company. United, we all striving to do the right thing: find clever solutions to difficult questions, with a pioneering spirit.

With the Sustainability Program, I want to create the structures, processes, and synergies to make this journey easier for everyone. My journey at SCHOTT has only just begun, but I can already say that there is no one else I would rather have alongside me on this expedition.

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