Interview with Doris Hildebrand and Mechthild Keinhörster-Schwartze

Caring for the environment doesn’t stop when we walk into the office.

Doris Hildebrand and Mechthild Keinhörster-Schwartze are both passionate about preserving the natural resources we all depend on. They are also both economics graduates – and both Environmental Officers at ERGO’s Düsseldorf headquarter. Our dynamic eco-duo let us into a few secrets on environmental management day to day at ERGO.

Ms Hildebrand, Ms Keinhörster-Schwartze, ERGO is planning to step up its contribution to protecting our planet by expanding its certified environmental management system to an increasing number of locations. How many employees are in charge of carrying out this work?

Doris Hildebrand: There are three of us in ERGO’s health, safety and environment office, taking care of ERGO Group’s environmental management system. We have several environment representatives as points of contact at each location for which we already have certification. In total, we are in regular contact with a network comprising about 60 employees in Germany and abroad.

Mechthild Keinhörster-Schwartze: We keep our environment representatives in Germany up to speed with changes in environmental legislation; these occasionally open doors for new product ideas which take account of environmental issues – such as our liability cover for financial loss aimed at energy consultants. We set a great amount of store by this work, as we believe that here at ERGO, caring for the environment is more than just taking action within company structures - integrating environmental issues into our core business is of key importance to us.

You also focus closely on promoting awareness of environmental issues among ERGO’s employees. What have your major successes been in this regard?

Mechthild Keinhörster-Schwartze: Many of us have been well aware of environmental matters for a long time now. After all, none of us want to leave nothing but a mess behind for future generations. A lot of people are extremely conscious of the environment in their lives outside work.

Doris Hildebrand: ... But caring for the environment doesn’t stop when we walk into the office.

How do you get your colleagues motivated to take action?

Mechthild Keinhörster-Schwartze: We use our pages in the intranet to call them to action and provide detailed information on our plans. In addition to this, we organise days of environmental action or “on your bike” days. For instance, we arranged for the Energiemobil, a mobile energy advice centre run by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, to visit us in Düsseldorf an Cologne to give employees tips and ideas for saving energy. At some locations, such as Mannheim, Hamburg or Cologne, employees have even set up environmental working groups.

What’s the idea behind those?

Doris Hildebrand: The working parties’ members are proactive in taking environmental issues into account when reviewing workflows and processes within the Company. For one, they serve as what you might call voluntary "eco-agents" in their workplaces, turning down radiators in corridors or fridges where they’re running at wasteful levels, or pointing out dripping taps so repairs can be sorted out. For another, they act as key multipliers for other issues, such as waste reduction and recycling, and pass on their ideas for environmental action to the departments they work in.

What’s on ERGO’s eco-agenda for 2012?

Mechthild Keinhörster-Schwartze: In 2012, we’ll be launching our international environmental management system and continuing to work on our major objective of making Group operations climate neutral by 2015. We’re also planning to achieve certification for our Munich location. We’ll complement these activities by organising a photo competition like the one we ran in Cologne in 2011; vocational trainees will be asked to photograph things that protect the environment at their location. We want this event to raise awareness of environmental issues among young people in particular.

Doris Hildebrand: Overall, we’re hoping that people at ERGO will not only become more aware of the issues, but also of their own responsibility for initiating change. We want people to be inspired by the example of their colleagues in the working parties. We’re always happy to provide support where needed and our colleagues can always contact us to discuss anything that comes up.


(Updated version of the interview from the Sustainability Report 2011.)