Doing business sustainably with a 360-degree perspective.
04.03.2021 | People & Society
The German Federal Association of Sustainable Business (Bundesverband Nachhaltige Wirtschaft e.V., BNW) is the voice of the green economy – including Riese & Müller. Its success is overseen by Dr Katharina Reuter and her team. In this interview, we talk to Katharina about her path into the association, where it has taken her and what a fair economy needs.
Katharina, how did you come to work for the association? (BNW, formerly UnternehmensGrün)?
I actually wanted to become a farmer and studied agricultural economics in Berlin. That’s where I became actively involved in local politics. I worked in agricultural marketing for organic food, then in a foundation promoting ecologically and socially sustainable land management before starting at GLS Treuhand in Bochum, allocating money to meaningful projects. I got to know how things worked on the other side of a door which I had, so to speak, been scratching at myself before.
Then, when I had children, I went back to Berlin. I wanted a job with less responsibility. That didn’t exactly go to plan (laughs), because for the next three years I managed the Klima-Allianz, an alliance of German civil society organisations committed to climate protection, a fantastic and very exhausting topic in a complex NGO alliance.
In 2014, I joined BNW, until recently known as UnternehmensGrün. My position as Managing Director brings together all the things I am good at. I can be politically active, network and fully contribute my all-round knowledge to the different areas. We bring together social movements with a 360° perspective on the economy. It is my absolute dream job.
We visited the concentration camp in Auschwitz and that’s when I realised that you can’t just stand by in society. Others felt the same way, so we got together at regional level to form a green youth group. Since there wasn’t a national association at the time, we then launched a nationwide green youth group.
I tormented my parents with eating spelt patties and nagged my father, a musician, about why he had to travel to his concerts by car – even though a French horn is a rather heavy instrument.
What would you say have been your greatest successes to date?
The Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) and the eco-tax, even if they were both a while ago. Then our David and Goliath fight on the EU’s free trade agreements with the US (TTIP) and Canada (CETA). Our success here was the press eventually reporting that there were many critical voices to these agreements amongst SMEs. As part of the “Fridays for Future” movement, we were able to successfully bring together voices from the business community with our “Entrepreneurs for Future” initiative, thereby reaching out far beyond the association’s membership. Currently, we are lobbying for an ambitious supply chain law.
How do you see the diversity issue in the context of sustainable business?
Diversity is definitely part and parcel, and it is nice to see that there is an increasing awareness of it. Little by little, we are making progress. Sustainability is often perceived as having three pillars: ecological, economic and social. A cultural dimension is also often included. This is where we experience how differently groups can act when they are diverse.
With women, for example: you can’t seriously leave out the views of half the population. But it is a process of change. UnternehmensGrün also started with ten men in leadership positions along with me as a woman. Today, in accordance with statutes, the association’s leadership is made up of equal numbers of women and men. We can all do better here; that has to be clearly stated. Raul Krauthausen comes to mind as an example. When he explains very basic things from the perspective of a person in a wheelchair, it is very inspiring and you can learn a lot for yourself about how limited our supposed “normal” view is.
What would you wish for? What do you consider to be the optimal conditions for sustainable business?
It’s really unfortunate that I have to wish for things. I actually wish for nothing other than fair market conditions. The same rules for everyone. The big companies just say “let the market sort it out”, because this plays into their hands against the background of current circumstances. But there is no fair market for climate protection and sustainability. We would have to have honest pricing first. On the issue of CO2, we are taking mini steps towards the right path.
The supply chain law has been a complete disaster when measured against what could have been possible. Companies did things in the expectation that policies would create a level playing field. These pioneers are precisely the ones who are now at a disadvantage. If Germany wants to reach the consensus of being climate-neutral by 2050, then we need different rules.
And how does the striving for growth fit in with this?
Our last annual conference had the eco-social market economy as its theme. One important outcome was that sustainably oriented companies can continue to grow. Growth is not the issue for the time being. It is much more a question of what should grow. But we still need to think about how we can achieve economic goals while at the same time using fewer resources. One aspect, for example, is to reduce waste and take the step towards a circular economy.
With our members, the growth dogma is not so prevalent, because there will be growth when the three pillars of sustainability – ecology, economy and social issues – are all considered equally.
Thank you very much for the interview and the fascinating insights, Katharina!
The agricultural economist Katharina Reuter has been committed to sustainable business for more than twenty years – first in teaching and research, then in the area of foundations and associations. As a consultant for organic themes and sustainability, she already worked closely with businesses.
Katharina has helped to set up and serve on the management/supervisory boards of various organisations. She is a co-founder of the European Sustainable Business Federation (Ecopreneur.eu), Regionalwert AG Berlin-Brandenburg and “Entrepreneurs For Future”, among others. Innovative sustainability projects inspire her.
She is therefore a dedicated member on the juries of German Environmental Award and German Sustainability Award. She has been managing the BNW since 2014.
The association was founded in 1992 as UnternehmensGrün. The initial motivation was the conviction that ecology and economic efficiency are not contradictory. Today, more than 400 member companies support its ideas.
- Ecologically oriented management and corporate social responsibility
- Corporate social creativity for tomorrow’s competitiveness
- Promoting regional economic structures oriented towards small and medium-sized enterprises
- Impetus for environmentally oriented policies of subsidies, taxes and levies
- Ecologically oriented procurement and investment policies
Katharina’s favourite start-ups
We asked Katharina Reuter what her three current “favourite” start-ups are – no easy task with more than 400 members to choose from.
This social and ecological business uses the profits from its fair trade organic coffee and tea products to support independent and charitable projects focusing on including people with disabilities, promoting ecological projects with a commitment to circular economy projects, and food rescue initiatives.
This is achieved, among other things, through transparent donations per product sold, the use of consumables produced in workshops for people with disabilities and the pooling and allocation of private donations.
The non-profit company from Hamburg is part of the Viva con Agua Family and supports sanitation projects, educates on sanitation issues, supports research on nutrient recycling, plants trees on “homemade” soil and promotes social volunteering.
Goldeimer has become known primarily through the use of its sawdust composting toilets at festivals all over Germany and, currently, through the successful crowdfunding campaign of its anti-racist toilet paper.
Quartiermeister is a beer brand and a social business made up of a company and an association. Social projects in the respective neighbourhood benefit from the proceeds (10 cents per beer sold). The association monitors the economic activities of the company in accordance with its statutes. Each member of the association can help decide which projects are supported.