Interview with Carsten Tilger, Member of the Henkel Sustainability Council for Corporate Communications

In 2010, Henkel introduced its new vision and values. All Henkel employees participated in Vision and Values workshops. Why did you choose this particular communications instrument?

Carsten Tilger: We wanted to be sure that every single one of our employees has the opportunity to  engage with our vision and the values. Instead of simply relying on the standard channels, such as employee newspapers, our intranet, or presentations at employee meetings, we deliberately chose a new approach. Only if all employees know and understand what our vision and values mean for them personally and for their team in their day-to-day work, they will become a guideline to behavior and decision-making. This is why we considered it important for all Henkel employees worldwide to participate in these Vision and Values workshops so that they could define, for example, what our “sustainability” corporate value means for them. This approach proved a great success – thanks, above all, to the employees themselves.

Is the “sustainability” value more difficult to communicate than the other values?

Carsten Tilger: The challenge we face when talking about sustainability is that this term is a very abstract one and there are so many different definitions. Moreover, sustainability can involve different aspects, depending on the context. So we needed to explain to our employees exactly what the term means to Henkel and which areas it covers in Henkel’s view. Only then will marketing staff, for example, be able to properly emphasize the ecologically sound properties of a product, or purchasing staff be able to explain why they chose a particular raw materials supplier rather than another one, based on sustainability considerations.

Do you also see challenges in terms of your dialogue with external stakeholders?

Carsten Tilger: Here, the number and variety of stakeholders is constantly growing, as is the scope of topics of interest for them. For example, rating agencies or retail customers are requesting increasingly detailed, technical information. By contrast, when communicating with consumers it is essential to communicate short, in clear and simple words, to ensure that the messages will be understood quickly. Choosing the appropriate communication channels and suitable forms of presentation for each specific target group is therefore becoming more and more important for a successful stakeholder dialogue. The challenge is to convey the company’s message consistently, no matter which communication medium is used or which target group is being addressed.

 How do you succeed in persuading the general public to take your sustainability communication seriously and not dismiss it as “greenwashing”?

Carsten Tilger: Experience shows that companies generally have to work hard to earn the public’s trust. Companies that are active in communicating their sustainability activities in the media are particularly susceptible to being accused of doing just PR or even “greenwashing”. More than anything else, sustainability communication must show continuity and authenticity in order to be credible and build long-term trust and reputation. By continuity, I mean that the actions and the commitment that are communicated must be connected what has been done in the past, and not short-term activism. Authenticity means that measures undertaken are relevant to the core business and relate to normal business activities. Potential dilemmas in pursuing sustainability and business targets must not be suppressed but explained and discussed openly. Authenticity is when people believe in what they are doing: The topic of sustainability has to be, above all, backed and brought to life by all employees. 

My Report
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