Discussing sustainability with Jochen Zeitz, CEO of Puma

The Guardian today held a very interesting Q and A session with Jochen Zeitz, the CEO of Puma. As they report, “Puma has created an environmental profit and loss account to put an economic valuation on the environmental impacts caused by greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and water consumption along its entire supply chain.” This is a really excellent change of business practice, and Puma are certainly to be applauded in being such pioneers in this area.

I asked a couple of questions to Jochen, and he was able to reply to both. The first was a little long, as I did not want to come across as too aggressive, while asking a probing question:

“If you look at how we live in the western world, it is about increasing consumption. As well as selling eco friendly products, do you think Puma will move towards encouraging people to spend less, to buy fewer products. Are you developing shoes to last for many seasons, as opposed to always creating new fashions that encourage people to throw away their old shoes?

I do hope that this does not sound aggressive. I feel that we have to consume far less than we are now, and I do not have any solutions as of yet as to how to achieve that, when business models are based around ever greater consumption.

Thank you if you are able to provide some thoughts on this matter. I think if I were to really believe in Puma as a company, I would make a switch. I think Puma from what I have read of your answers are making some very positive moves and changes.”

Jochen replied:

We need to change from a consumption model that is based on taking, making and wasting to a consumption that works with nature rather than against it. That must be the new paradigm. This needs to apply to both whether you want to consume more or less. Only then will we find a solution to the environmental problem. Obviously, renewable energy and new technologies will have to provide part of the solution as our global economy is built on global transportation and mobility.

This a very beautiful way of thinking, to work with nature rather than against it. I then asked a follow-up question as I feel that he had not fully addressed the issue of increased consumption:

Thanks Jochen. If there is time and if it is possible to ask, I was wondering if Puma have been influenced by the work done on “Triple Bottom Line”? How does your approach relate to this work, and can people who are implementing the “Triple Bottom Line” learn from Puma?

I am, of course, aware of the triple bottom line. My foundation is actually looking at the quadruple bottom line of: commerce, community, conservation and culture.

Obviously this blog is called Transition Consciousness, and this is a really excellent example of where the consciousness not only of the CEO but of the entire company has to change, before the business strategy can be implemented.

However, Jochen then followed up this answer with the following:

I understand your point about consumerism in society but asking a business to sell less to stop our consumerism isn’t a viable or indeed fair question to ask a business. Sustainability has to make business sense to a company there has to be a business case for it and fundamentally in a capitalist society which we all enjoy the benefits of (and of course feel the disadvantages) the business case for a company will be fundamentally be about how sustainability can drive sales BUT it can be done with a consideration for what matters.

I genuinely believe those companies who are taking the risks and being the pioneers of stating their business cases for sustainability should be applauded. I think Puma should be commended and that their announcement this week has potential to be a game changer.

Sustainability as Harvard Business school highlighted at the end of 2010 is the new megatrend, like the Internet was and those companies not getting on board will be the ones that suffer. There will be failures and car crashes like there was with the internet rush (remember the dot.com crash and year 2000 bug) but most companies certainly the biggest and wisest are all beginning to flex their muscles in sustainability circles and many have good sense to realise it can’t just be hot air.

As I have said, I also very much agree with the fact that Puma should be applauded for their pioneering work. God knows too few companies have reached the stage of thinking that Puma have.

But here we reach the point where we have to look at what people understand by the word “sustainability”. Is it about maintaining current levels of consumption, or do we really to look at whether or not the planet can actually withstand current levels of consumption. These are difficult questions to ask of our business leaders, and we need to ask these questions in a manner that is not aggressive, not confrontational, but in a manner in which we can arrive at a joint understanding of just much we need to transform, before we as human beings can truly say we are living on this planet in a truly sustainable manner.

The entire Q and A session can be read here. It features many intelligent questions and thoughtful answers.

One response to “Discussing sustainability with Jochen Zeitz, CEO of Puma

  1. Pingback: Harmonia 57: São Paulo’s living, breathing eco building « The Transition of Consciousness·

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