Aligning companies sustainably

How Vetter mastered the transition

Climate neutrality is becoming the top priority at more and more companies – even those that were originally very hesitant. Today, it is no longer about if, but how to transition to corporate sustainability. Here, many companies need guidance. They can learn from other companies which have already trodden much of the path towards sustainability – such as Vetter Pharma-Fertigung GmbH & Co. KG, from Ravensburg.

The company illustrates perfectly what the journey from first initiatives to first sustainability report (published in 2022) can look like. Vetter is one of the world’s leading service providers for the pharmaceutical industry, specialising in the aseptic production and packaging of prefilled syringes and other injection systems for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, severe rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and other illnesses. The family-owned company operates worldwide and counts pharmaceutical and biotech companies both large and small among its customers. In 2021, Vetter generated 840 million euros of annual sales and currently employs around 5,700 staff, who actively contribute to the company’s sustainable future.

Titus Ottinger

Partnering up for achieving corporate sustainability

Vetter’s business model inherently touches upon many sustainability topics: It is about health and safety for both customers and staff, about cleanliness and environmental protection. The company is thus perfectly suited to a sustainable mindset across the company – which, according to Titus Ottinger, Senior Vice President Finance/Controlling at Vetter, is inevitable: “None of the company’s departments can travel the road to climate neutrality alone, since a project like this concerns all areas – from procurement to sales, from production to administration. Achieving sustainability requires everyone to be pulling in the same direction.”

Why a sustainable business model is worth it

  • Vetter has become a role model for assuming social responsibility in the region
  • The company is positioning itself as an attractive employer.
  • Sustainability requirements in the industry are increasing.
  • A sustainable business model provides a competitive advantage and facilitates entering strategic partnerships.
  • Being part of the value chain, Vetter also supports the sustainability strategies of its customers, making it more attractive to potential customers.

But where to start? Reduce paper consumption, subsidise public transportation tickets for all employees, enhance occupational safety, or install solar panels? Vetter addressed this question by analysing the needs of its stakeholders – internal stakeholders such as staff and management, external stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, and residents who live near the production sites, and political stakeholders including civil society, NGOs and associations.

Assessing economic, social and environmental aspects

Another source was the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are meant to promote sustainable development on an economic, social and environmental level worldwide. Vetter then assessed which goals have a high impact on the company. Which ones can it actively support? And where does the company need to assume responsibility and make sure that any potential negative impact is avoided or mitigated?

Prioritising sustainable fields of action

Based on the identification and prioritisation of fields of action – something each company can do for itself – Vetter designed its own sustainability strategy. One field of action was obvious: the energy-intensive production conditions, since Vetter’s clean rooms require constant temperatures, humidity and pressure. What this means, and how Vetter nevertheless managed to achieve climate neutrality as early as 2020 by reducing and offsetting emissions, is described in detail in Vetter’s success story.

Comprehensive sustainability strategy

Next to these initiatives, Vetter has expanded its sustainability strategy. Mr Ottinger explains: “Taking environmental aspects into account on an equal footing with social and economic aspects has been a natural part of Vetter’s daily operations for years.” The company assumes its responsibility across five areas:

  • Corporate compliance: Both the company and its staff must comply with applicable law, statutory provisions and company guidelines. This is ensured by a comprehensive and up-to-date compliance management system.
  • Environmental, occupational and health protection: The company aims to do everything possible to protect its staff and the environment. To ensure this, high standards have been established in the areas of environment and energy, health, and (occupational) safety.
  • Health and family: Employees are a company’s most valuable asset. This is why it is important to optimise working conditions and promote employee health through preventive measures.
  • Training: Vetter supports both training and continuous personal development measures at the company’s German as well as international sites , as education always pays off.
  • Social commitment: By giving its employees the time to volunteer for social projects, and supporting such projects, non-profit organisations and patients, Vetter is aiming to give back to society .

Not resting on its laurels

In terms of sustainability, Vetter is certainly a role model. To maintain this status, the company always tries to stay on top of things and invests in continuous development in Ravensburg and at its other sites. Mr Ottinger comments: “We plan for the long term and include the most recent and even future technologies to constantly optimise our processes, production and energy supply.”

Five milestones on the way to corporate sustainability

  • Obtain commitment across the entire company: Sustainability cannot be imposed but must be based on a common conviction.
  • Define fields of action: Identify suitable fields of action based on the UN’s SDGs, DIN ISO 26000, or regarding their importance to the company’s stakeholders.
  • Make sustainable initiatives measurable: Clear and reliable data on the status quo are the starting point for documenting and demonstrating progress.
  • Leverage consulting services: Commerzbank’s network of experienced cooperation partners assists companies in implementing projects to achieve climate neutrality, and helps with far more than the financials.
  • Do good and talk about it: Communicate successes to stakeholders as precisely as possible.

For Vetter, there is no alternative to sustainability. “We have noticed that sustainability is increasingly taking centre stage for our customers,” Mr Ottinger concludes. “‘Green factories’ are important to them, and we have observed that more and more inspections are being performed under this aspect. We are proud that we started on our homework years ago. If we had not, we would be lagging behind. Instead, we are ahead of the game.”

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All images courtesy of Vetter Pharma-Fertigung GmbH & Co. KG

Updated: July 2022