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"A matter of decency"

Mr. Hornbach, family companies often think they are per se sustainable. Is it really that simple?

Albrecht Hornbach: I know where they are coming from, but you are right: It really is not that simple. Sustainability has far more dimensions than just consistency. We too have shown consistent growth, even if not always as smoothly as the capital market would like. In this respect, a stock market listing also has disadvantages, as companies are far too often assessed on their short-term results. That does not sound sustainable, does it? Having said that, the fact that HORNBACH’s management is securely in family hands guarantees a certain independence. It enables us to look beyond individual quarters, focus on what really matters, and think in terms of generations.

What does sustainability mean for HORNBACH?

Albrecht Hornbach: At HORNBACH, we talk about responsibility and a sense of responsibility – not sustainability. After all, the term “sustainability” is everywhere and currently very fashionable. That is why we avoid it. We rather focus on the virtues of a “reputable businessman” – fairness, integrity, sincerity, and reliability. These virtues engender trust in HORNBACH and enable us to create longterm value. That might sound a little old-fashioned, but it is still relevant today. For us, that is the core of sustainability.

Susanne Jäger: We are a retail company, so our key focus is on structuring our product range, i.e. the products we offer to our customers. We have set ourselves the standard and target of only selling products that actually convince us. Safety, quality, and usefulness are the top priorities here. It goes without saying that our customers’ needs are very important to us. Within the limits set by our convictions, their demand therefore determines our supply. Of course, there are other important aspects as well, such as the resources we use when building and operating our sites or our logistics. For us, acting with a sense of responsibility is a matter of decency.

Albrecht Hornbach: We are undergoing a process of transformation. The digitalization of our daily lives has also left its mark on the workplace. We have noticed that this process has occasionally led to insecurities among our colleagues. One of our main tasks here is therefore to make sure we maintain a good working environment for all our employees. After all, we know we need satisfied employees if we are to inspire our customers.

How many employees deal with this topic, or are you – Ms. Jäger and Mr. Hornbach – lone wolves when it comes to this?

Susanne Jäger: We are certainly not lone wolves! There is no way that could work in a company of this size. In strictly organizational terms, this topic is mainly handled by the “Quality Management, Environmental Issues, and CSR” team at the Baumarkt Group. Having said that, we also have another key advantage. Many aspects of what is now known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) have been in place at HORNBACH for many years. Previously, though, we referred to them as “common sense”. CSR components are anchored throughout our company, with different focuses in different areas, of course. In some cases, the motivation is economic efficiency, which then enables us to save energy as well. That is the ideal case. But there are also topics where social or environmental factors are the driving force – when it comes to structuring our product range, for example. In those cases, we are also prepared to accept temporary economic drawbacks.

What are HORNBACH’s most important sustainability targets?

Susanne Jäger: Put simply, I would say to become even better – and that in all our activities. That means more cost-efficient and more resource-effective, while always remaining a reliable partner to our employees, customers, and business partners.

Albrecht Hornbach: The targets we set are qualitative, not quantitative. You can always meet quotas in purely numerical terms. Whether that helps the company is another matter. On the other hand, qualitative targets are often misunderstood, as if they were somehow less challenging. That is certainly not how we see it.

Based on school grades of 1 (best) to 6 (worst) – how well is HORNBACH implementing its targets?

Albrecht Hornbach: I would award us a “2”. I am convinced that many things already work very well at our company, particularly in our focus areas of procurement and employees. But there is always room for improvement, of course. And when we look at different European countries, we also see the differences in what our customers, employees, and business partners expect of us and how they perceive our efforts.

What particular differences do you see in the various European countries?

Albrecht Hornbach: When I look at the countries where HORNBACH operates, I basically see more commonalities than differences. In terms of regional product mixes, however, the rate of home ownership does make a difference. People who own their own properties make different investment decisions from those who are tenants.

Susanne Jäger: Requirements also vary widely between individual countries. In Switzerland, for example, lawmakers and consumer organizations require a particularly high level of transparency when it comes to sustainability. Among other aspects, that involves labeling products and including information about their origins, components and contents. We then have to make sure we at least meet these requirements. That kind of requirement also influences customers’ awareness of sustainable product ranges.

Albrecht Hornbach: And the debate surrounding sustainability takes place in all kinds of different ways. That is why it is very important for us to be in dialog with our customers throughout Europe. But our interest does not just stop there. What do our employees think about these things? And what about our suppliers, capital providers, the media, and environmental protection associations? Maintaining an ongoing dialog with all our stakeholders is the only way to check again and again that we are still on the right course.

Where do you see the greatest challenges – or opportunities – for the future?

Albrecht Hornbach: Developments within society in the countries where we operate clearly show the way forward. People’s awareness of CSR is rising all the time. Surveys and references abound on so-called LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability). Members of the Y and Z generations are mostly also very sensitive to sustainability issues. For HORNBACH, that means we have to make sure we always think one step ahead so as to satisfy consumers’ rising standards – and that will be what counts most in future as well.

Susanne Jäger: At present, we are giving a great deal of thought to issues such as waste avoidance. How can we reduce the volume of packaging we use, for example? And then there is recycling and upcycling. Why not make new products out of old materials and offer these to our customers? That also means making sure that the products and packaging on offer at our stores are easily recycled. It is a complex cycle. Not least, we also have to maintain transparent supply chains in future as well. That will remain a challenging task.

Albrecht Hornbach: We are noticing that in our recruitment as well. Applicants often specifically ask about CSR topics. The younger generations want to work for companies whose values they share. And who is better placed to communicate that than our colleagues? They are our source of pride, they inspire our customers, and they earn the money. Our job is to support them in their work – and even outside work – and that too presents a fantastic opportunity for the future. All in line with our motto: “There’s always a job to be done”.

Thanks for your thoughts!

More about this in the HORNBACH Sustainability Magazine, PDF (8.13 MB) .

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