MAN Truck & Bus

It's about the ability to survive into the future

Corporate responsibility (CR) is no longer something that’s just ‘nice to have’ for companies. Management consultant Frank Sprenger explains in an interview why CR is crucial to a company’s success and how MAN has positioned itself

Portrait of Frank Sprenger, management consultant for environmental protection and sustainability

It's about the ability to survive into the future

Corporate responsibility (CR) is no longer something that’s just ‘nice to have’ for companies. Management consultant Frank Sprenger explains in an interview why CR is crucial to a company’s success and how MAN has positioned itself

Frank Sprenger

is a business graduate and US economist and has been working as a management consultant with a focus on environmental protection and sustainability since 1992. He founded the consultancy fors.earth in 2016. His team presided over and accompanied the wording of MAN’s CR vision.

Mr Sprenger, what topics are part of CR?

Sprenger Incredibly many because CR as a field has undergone several major developments over the past 30 years. It started in the 1980s with the topics of donations, sponsoring and compliance with environmental regulations that affected such areas as waste disposal. The communication with stakeholders was then added to the mix. Other aspects – including poverty, corporate social responsibility, diversity and particularly climate protection – have today also become increasingly important.

What role does CR play for companies?

Sprenger We’re currently in a phase where more and more companies are no longer simply letting their CR strategies run alongside what they’re already doing but are incorporating them into their core operations.

Why is that?

Sprenger Climate protection and sustainability, in particular, are two factors that are of great concern to societies across the globe as well as the manufacturing industry because they’re increasingly having an effect on purchasing decisions and regulatory laws. That’s why CR is no longer something that’s just ‘nice to have’ but absolutely relevant to the core operations of many companies. It’s particularly true for the commercial vehicle sector.

What role does CR play at MAN?

Sprenger CR topics gained a foothold at MAN in 2008. That was when the intention was to raise environmental management to a new level. The first comprehensive strategy was developed in 2010. The CR strategy was aligned with MAN Truck & Bus’ value-creation chain in 2017. The CR vision of ‘Clean, Safe, Caring. Driving Responsible Transport’ was drawn up in cooperation with the strategy department last year.

Why is an actively implemented CR strategy important for companies?

Sprenger It’s mostly about surviving into the future. Global challenges are changing society and business models. CR helps companies keep their ear to the ground and understand what the changes are that will affect their business model. The perhaps most important point here is the need to anticipate customer requirements. That’s challenging because sales operate in shorter cycles than CR strategies do. The two have to be brought together. Take the climate, for example: It is affecting purchasing decisions more frequently, also those made in the commercial vehicle market. But you can’t change business models overnight. The adjustment cycles for manufacturing companies are longer, which is particularly true for commercial vehicles. In the best cases, CR can help companies respond to developments in good time.

Should companies give equal weight to all CR topics or should they prioritise them?

Sprenger Companies must focus on the issues that affect them most and where their greatest responsibility lies. Their resources would soon become scarce if they were to attempt to focus on all aspects of CR. The climate as well as product safety is crucial to the CR for manufacturers of commercial vehicles. Diversity within companies is an important enabler to this end. But it does not head the list of demands being made on MAN.

What other do’s and dont’s are there?

Sprenger It’s important to continue to develop CR within the company. MAN has done that very well. The CR goals have already reached a strategic level there. One don’t would be: Those responsible for CR should facilitate efforts within the company but should not actually do the work for the departments. Because CR would then not penetrate to the core business. You instead have to operate within the departments while sensitising, motivating and challenging them.

Portrait von Frank Sprenger, Unternehmensberater für die Themen Umweltschutz und Nachhaltigkeit

Strategy consulting for sustainability: Frank Sprenger also sees corporate responsibility as a catalyst for future business models

Cross your heart: Is CR really the deciding factor for customers or is it not just the price that counts?

Sprenger Price is always the decisive factor – but how price is being perceived is changing. One example: Until now, it has been the case that only the classic total cost of ownership was considered where commercial vehicles are concerned. But, within the scope of the transformation process, politicians are currently doing everything they can to ensure that vehicles with alternative drive systems can also become competitive more quickly over the course of their life cycles, for example, through targeted tolls, the development of the appropriate charging infrastructure, monetary purchase incentives and other measures. The higher purchase price of vehicles with alternative drive systems can then be offset more quickly. And then there is the more favourable cost structure in terms of energy consumption, maintenance and wear. So it’s becoming increasingly useful – not only from an image point of view – for sustainability-oriented companies to invest in commercial vehicles with alternative drive systems.

And where the workforce is concerned: Isn’t the salary the most important factor in choosing or rejecting a job?

Sprenger Employees increasingly want to be proud of their company. But that also means that companies with a weak CR need to pay higher salaries and wages. CR also plays a role in regard to job security because it’s also significant to the ability of a company to survive into the future. Companies that are proactive in dealing with change have a better chance of surviving in the long term. Employees are also aware of this.

How can companies measure the success of their CR strategy?

Sprenger It’s important to measure the KPIs. MAN, for example, significantly exceeded the climate target it set itself for 2020 by 10%. It’s otherwise possible to measure the success of CR measures primarily through employee and stakeholder surveys. Possible questions are: Did we set the right priorities to meet your expectations? Are our goals ambitious enough? Is our progress convincing?

How do you rate MAN’s CR strategy?

Sprenger It’s apparent that it has been continuously developed since 2008. What MAN has done brilliantly: The employees were given the opportunity in training courses to grapple with the issues of climate and sustainability – issues that are crucial to business. Executives also underwent intensive training. MAN additionally involved its stakeholders and defined its CR goals along the entire value-creation chain.

How should MAN continue to develop its strategy?

Sprenger Focusing on the subject of climate is absolutely the best thing that the commercial vehicle sector can do for the next 10 years. It would be good for the future if MAN were to put its cooperation with Scania to even more intensive use. It would also be important to focus more on the topic of transporting goods and people in a sustainable world. The question should not be what vehicles will look like but what the systems will be that will be determining the mobility of the future.

Text Susanne Theisen
Photos Frank Sprenger

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