Dirk Röse

Mee­ting expec­ta­ti­ons, gau­g­ing limits

Klasmann-Deilmann publishes seventh Sustai­na­bi­li­ty Report

An inter­view with Moritz Böcking and Bernd Weh­ming

The Klasmann-Deilmann Group has published its seventh Sustai­na­bi­li­ty Report. Sub­tit­led ‘Mee­ting expec­ta­ti­ons, gau­g­ing limits’, it addres­ses unde­nia­b­ly con­flic­ting trends. Efforts are being step­ped up in pur­suing goals lin­ked to high expec­ta­ti­ons. At the same time, limits to fea­si­bi­li­ty must be bor­ne in mind. We spo­ke to our Mana­ging Direc­tors Moritz Böcking and Bernd Weh­ming about sustainab­le deve­lop­ment wit­hin the Klasmann-Deilmann Group.


Dirk Röse: The Klasmann-Deilmann Group issued its seventh Sustai­na­bi­li­ty Report in Novem­ber 2019. Reports had hither­to been pro­du­ced annu­al­ly; this time the inter­val was two years.

Moritz Böcking: It was good that we published our first reports on an annu­al basis. During that peri­od, we vigo­rous­ly pur­sued our company’s sustainab­le-deve­lop­ment poli­cy and were able to make appre­cia­ble impro­ve­ments from report to report. We have now achie­ved a very high level of per­for­mance in this area, in which we are front-run­ners both in our indus­try and in our home regi­on. We have shown how serious­ly we take this issue. All fur­ther deve­lop­ments will take time. So I feel that having bien­ni­al reports is appro­pria­te.

Bernd Weh­ming: The two years sin­ce the last Sustai­na­bi­li­ty Report also pro­vi­ded an important oppor­tu­ni­ty for us to revi­sit our mate­ri­al sustai­na­bi­li­ty topics in depth. Dia­lo­gue with our inter­nal and exter­nal sta­ke­hol­ders led to important new ide­as ari­sing during this peri­od. And we now have a clea­rer pic­tu­re of the direc­tion in which our company’s sustainab­le deve­lop­ment is going, and of what we are see­king to aspi­re to …


Dirk Röse: … which I’m sure is a refe­rence to the report’s sub­tit­le: ‘Mee­ting expec­ta­ti­ons, gau­g­ing limits’. Is a balan­cing of objec­tives invol­ved, i.e. con­si­de­ring which goals are to be pur­sued and which are to be drop­ped?  

Bernd Weh­ming: Exac­t­ly. We have view­ed, and taken for­ward, our sustainab­le deve­lop­ment in a very wide sen­se. But not ever­ything is fea­si­ble, nor is ever­ything necessa­ry. What was nee­ded was to pru­dent­ly weigh up what we want to focus on in future.


Dirk Röse: It’s part­ly about ful­fil­ling cer­tain expec­ta­ti­ons.

Moritz Böcking: And for a good rea­son. In the poli­ti­cal land­s­cape – wit­hin Euro­pe at least – the­re are gro­wing signs that the use of peat in com­mer­ci­al hor­ti­cul­tu­re is to be restric­ted. The­re­fo­re, expec­ta­ti­ons made of us inclu­de fur­ther pro­gress in pro­du­cing and using alter­na­ti­ve raw mate­ri­als in our substrates. We are alrea­dy very clo­se to hit­ting a key tar­get: name­ly, to increa­se the pro­por­ti­on of alter­na­ti­ve sub­stra­te con­sti­tu­ents to 15% by volu­me of our total annu­al pro­duc­tion by the end of 2020. In con­junc­tion with our stra­te­gic plan for the peri­od until 2025, we now aim to achie­ve a sha­re of 30% by volu­me. We are doing extre­me­ly well in this regard.

Bernd Weh­ming: At the same time, the­re remains a lack of sui­ta­ble alter­na­ti­ve con­sti­tu­ents that are avail­ab­le – both in the necessa­ry qua­li­ty, and in the lar­ge quan­ti­ties requi­red if peat use is to be redu­ced on a glo­bal sca­le or, initi­al­ly, at least on a European sca­le.

Moritz Böcking: The future for inter­na­tio­nal com­mer­ci­al hor­ti­cul­tu­re is uncer­tain in one cru­ci­al regard: an ele­men­ta­ry func­tion in the growth pro­cess of a crop has been ide­al­ly ser­ved for deca­des now by peat-based gro­wing media. The task is to pro­vi­de this func­tion equal­ly reli­ab­ly using alter­na­ti­ve con­sti­tu­ents, or to replace it by adop­ting com­ple­te­ly new cul­ti­va­ti­on methods.


Dirk Röse: How is Klasmann-Deilmann dealing with this chal­len­ge? I under­stand that increa­sing use is being made of alter­na­ti­ve sub­stra­te con­sti­tu­ents.

Moritz Böcking: The ver­sa­ti­li­ty of well-estab­lished alter­na­ti­ve ingre­dients such as wood fib­re, green com­post, coir pith and per­li­te is con­ti­nuous­ly being impro­ved by our spe­cia­lists. We have also fur­ther inten­si­fied our rese­arch activi­ties tar­ge­ted at deve­lo­ping com­ple­te­ly new sub­stra­te con­sti­tu­ents and gro­wing sys­tems. Our Rese­arch & Deve­lop­ment divi­si­on and the Incu­ba­tor, which has been very active for some years now, are sear­ching – across a suf­fi­ci­ent­ly wide spec­trum and with open minds – for new con­sti­tu­ents, methods of cul­ti­va­ti­on and other inno­va­tions.

Bernd Weh­ming: For a busi­ness with the cha­rac­ter of an SME, the finan­ci­al and human resour­ces invol­ved are very con­si­dera­ble. We must bear in mind that by no means all rese­arch pro­jec­ts yield the hoped-for out­co­mes. Only rare­ly, in fact, do rese­arch activi­ties lead to mar­ked bene­fi­ci­al effec­ts. Sup­port mea­su­res are the­re­fo­re desi­ra­ble here for tho­se coun­tries that are step­ping up the pha­se-out of peat use, or inde­ed at EU level as well. We are sub­mit­ting pro­po­sals to this end via our tra­de asso­cia­ti­on and in direct dia­lo­gue with poli­ti­cal rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves.

Managing Directors of Klasmann Deilmann: Moritz Böcking (left) and Bernd Wehming (right)

Mana­ging Direc­tors of Klasmann Deilmann: Moritz Böcking (left) and Bernd Weh­ming (right)

Dirk Röse: Can you tell me about one suc­cess­ful rese­arch pro­ject in recent years that has led to genui­ne advan­ces?

Moritz Böcking: An out­stan­ding examp­le of this is our long-term pro­ject invol­ving Spha­gnum far­ming: the deli­be­ra­te cul­ti­va­ti­on of peat moss. Its ori­gi­nal aim was to deve­lop a sub­stra­te con­sti­tu­ent that is (in the best sen­se of the word) sustainab­le. Howe­ver, this pro­ject initi­al­ly led to the dis­co­very that, while peat moss is ide­al­ly sui­ted as a raw mate­ri­al for sub­stra­te pro­duc­tion, its cul­ti­va­ti­on is not at pre­sent com­mer­ci­al­ly via­ble. Exces­si­ve­ly high land pri­ces, low pro­duc­tivi­ty, a lack of avail­ab­le means of finan­ci­al sup­port, ina­de­qua­te har­ve­s­ting tech­ni­ques, etc. – the­se are all rea­sons why we are not pur­suing this goal any fur­ther for the time being. At the same time, the pro­ject yiel­ded other posi­ti­ve, if unex­pec­ted, results regar­ding peat moss cul­ti­va­ti­on spe­ci­fi­cal­ly for rai­sed-bog deve­lop­ment.

Bernd Weh­ming: It is now clear that the Spha­gnum-far­ming method deve­lo­ped by our­sel­ves and our part­ners rep­res­ents a signi­fi­cant advan­ce for the res­to­ra­ti­on of for­mer extrac­tion are­as. We are the­re­fo­re cur­r­ent­ly taking for­ward a rela­ted busi­ness model that may be instru­men­tal in redu­cing green­house gas emis­si­ons from peat­lands and in crea­ting living rai­sed bogs.


Dirk Röse: Speaking of green­house gases: this is cer­tain­ly an important issue. The Klasmann-Deilmann Group’s car­bon foot­print for 2018 is hig­her than that for 2016.

Moritz Böcking: The­re were con­flic­ting goals: reduc­tion of emis­si­ons on the one hand, and busi­ness growth on the other. We have con­scious­ly taken this chal­len­ge on board.

Bernd Weh­ming: We are very hap­py that emis­si­ons at pro­duct level decrea­sed over the same peri­od: emis­si­ons per cubic met­re of sub­stra­te fell from 59.40 kg in 2016 to 58.73 kg CO2e in 2018. This is chief­ly thanks to the increa­sed use of alter­na­ti­ve con­sti­tu­ents.

Moritz Böcking: It’s always about the pro­duct that we pass on to our custo­mers. And our emis­si­ons are decrea­sing at pro­duct level becau­se we know pre­cise­ly how we can mana­ge this trend. That’s why our pro­duct car­bon foot­print will be a key indi­ca­tor of our sustainab­le-deve­lop­ment per­for­mance in future.

Bernd Weh­ming: We take the emis­si­ons cau­sed by our com­pa­ny very serious­ly. Appro­xi­mate­ly one third each comes from peat use (31 %) and from world­wi­de trans­port (36 %). Added to this are ener­gy con­sump­ti­on (10 %) and purcha­sed mate­ri­als (23 %). We view this as a prio­ri­ty mis­si­on and have explo­red various sce­n­a­ri­os aimed at coun­tering this trend. We have now opted for a model that will allow cli­ma­te impac­ts from peat use and trans­port to be redu­ced.

Moritz Böcking: Over the next few years we will invest hea­vi­ly in decen­tra­li­sing our pro­duc­tion. We are, with our fac­to­ries, moving clo­ser to custo­mers in major mar­kets; we will draw on local­ly avail­ab­le, rene­wa­ble and sustainab­le raw mate­ri­als while at the same time mar­ked­ly redu­cing trans­port distan­ces. Bernd Weh­ming: This deve­lop­ment has been part­ly dri­ven by fur­ther step­ping-up of the eva­lua­ti­on of upco­m­ing invest­ments using sustai­na­bi­li­ty cri­te­ria.


Dirk Röse: What, then, are the limits to sustainab­le deve­lop­ment?

Moritz Böcking: The mea­su­res we have men­tio­ned rela­te clo­se­ly to our core busi­ness and are, to use a Glo­bal Repor­ting Initia­ti­ve (GRI) term, ‘mate­ri­al’ to our sustainab­le deve­lop­ment. We have con­duc­ted a mate­ria­li­ty ana­ly­sis to reas­sess what pre­cise­ly is, and is not, of cen­tral impor­t­an­ce to us.

Bernd Weh­ming: This was promp­ted by the rea­li­sa­ti­on that we were, increa­singly, occu­pied with time-con­suming tasks that stretch to the limit the human resour­ces of our com­pa­ny, with its lean orga­ni­sa­ti­on, yet wit­hout appre­cia­ble bene­fits in terms of sustainab­le deve­lop­ment. In respon­se, we have drawn shar­per divi­ding-lines bet­ween issu­es mate­ri­al to us and tho­se less so or not at all. In future, we will once again be focu­sing on tho­se are­as whe­re the expec­ta­ti­ons pla­ced on us are grea­test, and which unlock sustainab­le poten­ti­al.

Moritz Böcking: And the­se are­as are the deve­lop­ment of alter­na­ti­ve con­sti­tu­ents and gro­wing sys­tems, the reduc­tion of emis­si­ons from peat pro­duc­tion and trans­port, the reha­bi­li­ta­ti­on of for­mer extrac­tion sites and, of cour­se, the pro­vi­si­on of rene­wa­ble resour­ces for gene­ra­ting rene­wa­ble ener­gy.


Dirk Röse: This time, the prin­ted ver­si­on is only half as long as the 2016 report.

Moritz Böcking: It was a con­scious decisi­on on our part to pro­du­ce an abrid­ged edi­ti­on con­tai­ning the key fac­ts and figu­res – a ver­si­on avail­ab­le both digi­tal­ly and in prin­ted form. It has been made reader-fri­end­ly by divi­ding the con­tent into brief sec­tions. Readers can dip in and out any­whe­re, or jump from place to place.

Bernd Weh­ming: The­re is also a com­ple­te ver­si­on that is even lon­ger than the 2016 report. The full Sustai­na­bi­li­ty Report is in line with GRI stan­dards, i.e. with glo­bal­ly reco­gnis­ed gui­de­li­nes. And, in the pre­vious two years, things have also pro­gres­sed on this front – we now take into account even more gui­de­li­nes, and our repor­ting of aspec­ts such as human-resour­ces mat­ters has beco­me more com­pre­hen­si­ve.

Moritz Böcking: I think it’s good that we fol­low the various gui­de­li­nes, as this pla­ces our report at an inter­na­tio­nal­ly reco­gnis­ed level. Our focus on our mate­ri­al topics is clear­ly evi­dent – first and fore­most, we report on what is expec­ted of us. The key chap­ters are tho­se on peat pro­duc­tion and on the use of alter­na­ti­ve sub­sta­te con­sti­tu­ents, as well as tho­se chap­ters devo­ted to the car­bon foot­print and to site res­to­ra­ti­on.


Dirk Röse: Thank you for speaking with us.