Fertile imaginations

Sedus – A pioneer in enlightened business practices

For over half a century the sensitive use of resources and a focus on the environment have been key facets of the Sedus corporate philosophy. The strength and longstanding nature of these convictions make Sedus a true pioneer in the field of corporate social responsibility. The creed is based on an unshakeable belief that commercial interests are not incompatible with a progressive approach to the environment, but can actually feed off each other. This previously unwritten philosophy is now apparent in the form of twelve key principles and a unique environmental management strategy. What this means in practice is that the philosophy is absorbed into the very DNA of the business.

Of course all organisations now claim to have an environmental strategy. For some this is merely a question of paying lip service or using their proclamations as a fig leaf for the environmental impact of the business. For others it is an integral part of what they do, an ingrained part of their culture and not based on greenwash. What either approach reflects is a broad social consensus based on a set of shared environmental ideals and, crucially, the need to see them implemented in some way. The desire to take at least some responsibility for the care of the planets is something that we can act on both as individuals and organisations. Many of the things we do can have a significant impact. Ultimately, we must all experiment with a range of actions to determine how best to move towards a sustainable lifestyle or, in the case of organisations, towards the development of an effective environmental strategy. When Sedus was taking its first steps in this direction 50 years ago, its approach was seen as nothing less than revolutionary.

Tentative steps
When the company was established in 1871, its choice of location had its own logic. As well as giving the nascent business easy access to the timber resources of the southern edge of the Black Forest in Waldshut, the Rhine and local rail links to both the rest of Germany and Switzerland and beyond. As a result this location was inherently environmentally friendly. Of course, this was long before anybody had realised there was value in the principles behind the now fashionable label of environmentally friendly product design. Even so, the designers at Sedus were soon engaged in finding the connection between sustainable production and design excellence. One of the most important aspects of this link was evident in the quest for quality and durability. These are two of the most enduring traditional characteristics of Sedus products. The renewed focus on design excellence that has been a particular hallmark of the firm’s award winning products since the mid 1990s has also been evident in the constant pursuit for excellence in sustainability. This is important in every aspect of the firm’s operations, including in purchasing and production, logistics and recycling. This has been pursued so vigorously that it is now almost taken for granted, although there is a great deal of pride in the earning of awards and certificates (see page 12).

From supplementing rations to organic cultivation and a world class restaurant
One of the more surprising aspects of the Sedus corporate philosophy was established by Christof and Emma Stoll, the third generation owners of the business back in the 1950s, who applied anthroposophic principles to the firm’s operation, focussing on the creative, ethical and spiritual wellbeing of the organisation and the people who work for it, including looking after the nutrition of the workforce. Even during the war this was evident in the form of a soup kitchen that provided workers with a nutritious meal including vegetables from the company’s garden. Things really developed from around 1966 with the creation of a professional kitchen which has developed over the following years into today’s impressive facility which includes a team of trained chefs and Sedus’s own branded restaurant ‘Oasis’ serving world class food. Wherever it is served, the kitchen uses produce from the firm’s own six hectare farm and gardens which are managed according to strict organic principles. The home-grown produce includes vegetables and salads, all grown without artificial fertilisers and pesticides. About 200 free range chickens provide eggs and some meat and a few pigs are also kept, mainly to provide a sustainable way of disposing of waste plants and vegetables. Other food is no less subject to stringent standards. IT is sourced locally wherever possible and is invariably of very high quality. Meat and fish are rarely served as the main component of a meal, but rather as a supplement. Most recipes are set so that they require the absolute minimum of preparation in order that the nutritional value of each food is preserved.

Milestones in Eco-Management at Sedus Stoll AG

In 1993, Christof Stoll was honoured as Eco-Manager of the year by the WWF in conjunction with Capital
magazine. The company received the award for environmentally conscious management from the Association of Independent Entrepreneurs in 1988, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1999. In 1995, Sedus became the first office furniture manufacturer to receive an accreditation from the EU Eco Audit Scheme. It then acheived certification for the international environmental standard ISO14001 in 2001. Environmental management has long been a cornerstone of the Sedus philosophy and in 2012, the company was accredited with the new ISO 50001:2011 energy management standard.

Mens sana in corpore sano
Each day, head chef Ulrich Rotzinger and his team prepare meals for some 200 people in the main canteen. In addition customers and visitors are entertained each day in the Oasis restaurant. Around half of the dinner guests typically choose vegetarian food, or a version of vegetarianism that includes dairy products and eggs. It must be said however that the commitment of the Stolls to nutrition for their workforce was not entirely altruistic. There were sound business reasons for it and not least because they understood how people were affected by their food. They understood what the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1804 – 1872) meant when he said ‘you are what you eat’. In purely commercial terms, because nutrition improves the quality of life, it follows that it improves the performance of people in the workplace. So it is essential that business leaders understand the link between what people take into their bodies and what they produce while they are at work, their motivation and general health. And so we come full circle. We have returned to the original philosophy that links commercial interests with the ethical. Employees are the most important and also the most expensive asset of the company. Across most of Europe they account for something like 80 per cent of the operational costs of most organisations.

Eating together puts people in a good mood
The provision of healthy food is therefore an important part of any programme of corporate social responsibility. It also is good business because when companies make a contribution to the wellbeing of their employees, they reap the benefits in terms of helping people to work better as well as attracting and retaining the best employees. Not only that, a good meal with your colleagues in a pleasant setting encourages interactions and informal communication, helping people to develop relationships and exchange ideas and information. This is self-evidently an important component of any Office 2.5.

The Stoll VITA Foundation

In 1985, Christof and Emma Stoll created the Stoll VITA Foundation as a way of maintaing their life's work and perpetuating their ideals. The goals of the foundation are promote scientific research in the field of public health care and education, especially in the areas of environmental protection and nature conservation, landscape conservation, and animal and plant breeding. The Foundation's assets form a significant proportion of the shareholding in publicly quoted firm Sedus Stoll AG. The fruits of the foundation include the conversion of the former premises in Waldshut into a public garden with a playground. Current facilities established as part of the foundation's work include a museum with adjoining exhibition areas, lecture rooms and a kitchen for conducting cookery classes. in one of the new buildings on the site, the foundation has set up a municipal kindergarten. One of the aims of the facility is to encourage youngsters to become involved with the growing and preparation of fresh food.