Interview with Wolfgang Furler, Chairman of the supervisory board of the Koehler Group

Thinking across

What is the Supervisory Board’s opinion on the Koehler Group’s first sustainability report? Wolfgang Furler, who was the company’s COO for a long time and has been the chairman of the Supervisory Board since 2007, explains why Koehler has so much to tell when it comes to the topic of sustainability, how the family business handles it in its very own unique way, and what kind of support he expects from the political world.

What did the Supervisory Board think of the first Koehler Group sustainability report?

Wolfgang Furler Both the Supervisory Board and I as its chairman decided to fully support the company’s sustainable positioning and the Executive Board’s efforts in this regard at all times. We’re not under a legal obligation to prepare a sustainability report as a company, but we’re doing it out of conviction because we believe that we have a lot to say in this area. As far as the Supervisory Board is concerned, the sustainability report showed the current status of the Koehler Group’s sustainability-related activities and the corresponding developments with a great deal of transparency.

What would the Supervisory Board like to see from the Koehler Group when it comes to sustainability?

WF In our role as the Supervisory Board, it’s important for us to always know how the various sustainability issues at the Koehler Group are evolving, since that will enable us to adjust and fine-tune the company’s goals together with the Executive Board. That includes, for instance, the implementation status of our Koehler Promise, where the goal is to produce more renewable energy with our own plants than is required for our paper production by 2030.

In addition, it’s very important for us to be able to trace the criteria we use to decide where to get our raw materials when we think about sustainable development. And the truth is that it’s still not always easy to get that done across industries. Sure, certifications can help evaluate suppliers and sources when it comes to pulp, but the information for evaluating sources is still inadequate for many other raw materials from suppliers in global supply chains, such as those in Asia.

How can the Supervisory Board help implement our sustainability strategy?

WF It’s not the Supervisory Board’s job to get involved in the company’s operational day-to-day business, but rather to provide an overarching direction. That’s also how I see it as the chairman of the Supervisory Board, and that means that our focus needs to be on that overarching direction. This doesn’t mean, however, that every single investment for which we make joint decisions needs to be meant for issues related to sustainability, but rather that all investments as a whole must contribute to sustainable development. This is the approach we’re taking on the Supervisory Board, and it also goes for when we’re approving our annual investment plans.

What does sustainability mean for a family business as opposed to a publicly traded company?

WF Well, the fact that we’re a family-run company means both that we can react much quicker and that, above all, we’re independent. A huge advantage here is the fact that we think across generations, so we can look at ROIs in the longer term, which is not the case for publicly traded companies.

Other companies talk, model, and compensate. Koehler makes concrete plans and has already implemented many things. How has Koehler managed to make that kind of sustainability a reality?

WF Koehler has always been a deeply pragmatic company. We all believe in the principle of sustainability and know just how important it is, so implementing it in a pragmatic manner was a matter of course. For example, we’re using our new Production Line 8 in Kehl to make innovative flexible packaging paper that can replace plastic packaging in many areas. On top of that, we’ve actually switched the entire line to 100 % green electricity. In addition, products such as Blue4est® thermal paper and its sibling Blue4est® Pro Label clearly show that the Supervisory Board is actively supporting the development process for sustainable products with a view to the future. Our goal, both as a company and as the Supervisory Board, is to act sustainably, and that will also end up benefiting our employees across generations.

What would you like the political world to do right now? How can politicians support companies in pushing sustainable development forward?

WF We want the political world to give us clear guidelines so that we can make the right decisions in order to remain successful in the long term. Setting the right priorities in these times of uncertainty is pretty challenging for us. Are the raw materials we’re using the right ones? How do we analyze challenges regarding energy prices and availability?

We need politicians to restrict themselves to defining the framework and goals without requiring specific details, and that’s because companies like Koehler need latitude when it comes to how to meet these goals. This is very important for us, since capital-intensive systems and facilities like the ones we have often take ten or more years to pay for themselves.