Certified more efficient
It came as no surprise when the French tyre manufacturer Michelin requested an audit. Manufacturers from many industries have been focusing intently on certification for quite some time now. This involves – in the broadest possible sense – efficiency, sustainability and the documentation of every imaginable procedure in the company. And that includes quality concerns. Against that complex background, the responsibility for the project was assigned to HF quality manager Dr Dieter Berkemeier, who holds a PhD in process engineering. The aim of the project was to use a sophisticated questionnaire to determine truthful answers to questions concerning, alongside a few general aspects, the four main topics of environment, work practices, fair business relationships and sustainable procurement.
“Basically, as a company, we were not prepared for these kinds of questions”
admits Berkemeier openly.
To that end, Michelin had prepared everything perfectly and contracted out the assessment and support of the operative tasks to the service provider EcoVadis. The list of questions was available on the cloud, and an account for HF had already been set up. After an initial glance, it was clear that HF has already been complying with many of the requirements for several years now. Why? Because those procedures have proven effective. And because they are efficient, or serve to maintain or enhance quality. For the most part, however, this had not been documented. And this was precisely one of the core elements of the audit. There was no point whatsoever in searching for possible records. The situation was both simple and commonplace: information that has not been documented in the past cannot be found. Even the detailed knowledge of experienced, long-time employees revealed no hidden information.
Assuming overall corporate responsibility
Meticulous preparation and thorough procedures were the order of the day. To understand what that really means, it is helpful to glance through the entire shelf of overstuffed ring binders in Berkemeier’s office. They contain background information, standards and regulations, as well as explanations for hundreds of acronyms and abbreviations encountered in connection with the certification request. Working in highly exacting detail, the employees started from the basics to develop the required skills and knowledge. A positive effect is that audits like this one play a significant role in enabling companies like HF to assume overall corporate responsibility. Corporate Social Responsibility is the term used in professional circles. It encompasses trading on the market, ecological aspects, employee relations (workplace) and interaction with relevant stakeholders and interest groups. Transposed to the list of questions compiled by EcoVadis, those thematic elements are categorised under environment, work practices, fair business practices and sustainable procurement. Questionnaires like this one are used primarily by automotive groups and their suppliers to scrutinise service providers and companies comprising the value creation chain, in order to ensure consistent compliance in the four thematic areas. The required depth in terms of content goes well beyond quality assurance. The HF MIXING GROUP had to indicate whether it pursues an active policy relative to the work practices and human rights, for example, and whether it has implemented measures to prevent discrimination, child labour and forced labour.
“Yes, we have. Of course!”
states Berkemeier emphatically. Those measures are documented in, among other places, the Sustainability Report 2014 and in a Code of Conduct, which regulates the areas of ethics and integrity.
In the meantime, many other things have also been established for the record – and are now subject to continuous documentation. This applies in the areas of health management, for example, and the social commitment of HF. The volume of required information surprised even veteran HF employees. And as a result it was soon clear that a crack team was needed to perform this complex task. Six employees took the job on: Larissa Reineck, Sabrina Jahn, Nadina Massuard, Stefan Gross, Dr Harald Keuter and Dieter Berkemeier. Together they brought the project to a successful conclusion.
“According to comparative data from EcoVadis, our results place us in the top ranks among the other suppliers in all categories – and in the environmental area we actually lead the pack”
states project leader Berkemeier.
Energy management as a key component of competitiveness
All that effort has paid off.
“The bottom line is, we’ve become a more effective company today”
, concludes Berkemeier positively. EcoVadis’ seemingly unquenchable thirst for information often stretched the team to its limits. In the environmental category, for example, more detailed data about CO2 emissions at the Freudenberg site were available – but not in the required form. The same was true regarding the consumption of fossil-fuel-based energies. We knew how much heating oil, electricity and gas we consume, of course. But as is so often the case, the devil was in the detail. No one knew exactly which users were consuming how much of that energy. That has changed. As a result of the Michelin audit, HF is now able to list energy consumption by user. Certification according to ISO 50001 documents the changes in the company. The energy management system records and evaluates the energy-related processes. That helps the company track down savings potentials, which then lead to concrete measures for reducing energy consumption. The new requirements are implemented so consistently now that even the consumption of individual radiators will be recorded in the future. In combination with the sustainable reinforcement of our employees’ energy awareness, the energy management system has become a key component of our effort to improve our competitiveness. In parallel, HF has enhanced its corporate sustainability through the implementation of its environmental management system according to ISO 14001. It obliges the company to engage in active environmental protection, the conservation of resources and continuous improvement processes using the
“plan – do – check – act”
In hindsight, those involved had not expected the audit requirements to affect so many areas of the company. Fire protection is a particularly impressive example: Thomas Wickler has been serving as the Fire Protection Officer at the Freudenberg site since 1 November 2014. A lucky break for HF. As fire chief and captain of the volunteer fire brigade of Freudenberg’s neighbouring municipality of Friesenhagen, Wickler is a seasoned expert who could fill this safety-related position from within the company. Not least against that background, EcoVadis’ detailed questions produced another beneficial effect: intensive interaction with our own company – and above all with our own employees – drew attention to untapped resources.
“Few employees at HF were aware that with Thomas Wickler we had a fire chief and fire brigade captain right in our own ranks. Now we’re making full use of Thomas Wickler’s expertise and making HF more efficient – and safer”
sums up Berkemeier. Since then, the fire chief has been consistently improving the company’s fire protection on behalf of HF. Along with fire protection safety instructions for all employees, Wickler has inspected all fire extinguishers and verified all escape routes. Training programmes for fire protection assistants and the installation of a fire alarm system across the entire site are in preparation. Both are scheduled for completion before the end of this year.
Things some might presume to be self-evident are also regulated. The Code of Conduct takes a clear position regarding fair business practices. Corruption, fraud, money laundering and other anticompetitive practices are unequivocally rejected. It requires employees to protect the privacy of individuals as well as the data of consumers and customers. Room for interpretation? None.
Value creation chain with uniform standards
The cumulative experience with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and especially the far-reaching effects of the Michelin certification continue to have an impact. Already during the 2015 financial year, the HF MIXING GROUP decided to encourage its suppliers to undertake CSR activities of their own. An informal query sent out to the 50 HF suppliers with the highest turnover is designed to determine which activities have already been implemented in the respective companies and where they have outperformed minimum statutory requirements. We are currently evaluating the responses submitted by the companies. For the current year, we intend to solicit similar information from an additional 200 suppliers. Our aim is to establish uniform standards along the entire value creation chain.