Sustainability Strategy 2025—Interview with Martina Steffen
“We've set ambitious goals for ourselves“
Sustainability is increasingly moving toward the center of the Group’s overall strategy. Martina Steffen, a member of the Executive Board, is HOCHTIEF’s Labor Director and Chief Sustainability Officer. In a talk with concepts Editor in Chief Torsten Meise, she explains the challenges the Group is addressing in the recently passed Sustainability Plan 2025.
Ms. Steffen, HOCHTIEF is one of the market leaders for green buildings, and it always occupies top spots in sustainability rankings. Why is the Group adopting its Sustainability Plan 2025 now?
Martina Steffen Sustainability has been an important topic at HOCHTIEF for years now, and it’s also one of our core values. In this area, we’ve got a good foundation and a very good reputation in the market. However, the overall conditions have markedly changed and the significance of sustainability has increased considerably. That’s why we also took a new look at the topic of sustainability and reevaluated it in our future-oriented “Project ONE” in 2021. ONE stands for “Our Next Evolution.” One thing is clear: We can shape our future only if we have the right sustainability strategy. We’re good, but the journey has only just begun, and we can certainly become better.
In other words, there’s even more emphasis now on sustainability as part of the Group’s core strategy?
Martina Steffen Yes, absolutely. Sustainability is a precondition of our future corporate success. I’m convinced that this is exactly the right time to take the next steps. Many stakeholders are ready to deal with this topic. For example, Europe has sent an important signal by adopting the “European Green Deal”. In the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, sustainability already occupies a key position in contract awarding processes.
What about countries outside Europe?
Martina Steffen Through our subsidiaries in the USA we know, for example, that many technology companies in California are very progressive in this area and that they are demanding sustainable solutions. We’re seeing an ongoing development here, because clients all over the world are going through a rethinking process. That’s one more reason why the Sustainability Plan 2025 was developed by an international team in cooperation with our worldwide subsidiaries. The plan’s implementation will also be worldwide, of course.
A specialist in the areas of data processing and economics and IT, she became a member of the Executive Board of HOCHTIEF Aktiengesellschaft and the Group’s Labor Director in 2021. In these positions she is responsible for human resources and ESG matters.
Martina Steffen has worked at HOCHTIEF since 1989 in various positions, including as Head of the Human Resources corporate department and as the Chief Sustainability Officer since May 2021.
Can you give us some examples of concrete measures that HOCHTIEF and ist subsidiaries are currently implementing or will implement in the near future?
Martina Steffen We have set clear goals for ourselves in the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) areas, together with the corresponding action plans and key performance indicators (KPIs). We’ve put strong emphasis on the circular economy and agreed on appropriate goals in this area. But the main thing to be said is that we as a Group want to be climate-neutral by 2045.
That’s an ambitious goal. How do you intend to achieve it?
Martina Steffen We need to make a massive effort. We will reach this goal together if our clients, suppliers, and business partners join in. Our work is beginning now. That’s why we’re not looking only at 2045. We’ve also set ourselves ambitious interim goals to be reached by 2025.
In your opinion, where are the biggest challenges on the road to climate neutrality?
Martina Steffen Renewable energies are one example. We will need enormous amounts of them in the future. The conversion of construction machines to carbon-neutral drive systems is also an ambitious task. Smaller machines with electric drive systems are already available, but for large ones it will still be a number of years before they too can be converted to electric or possibly hydrogen drive systems. But probably the biggest challenge is the carbon footprint of construction materials such as steel, concrete, asphalt, and glass. Their production is very energy-intensive and is connected with considerable CO₂ emissions in the production process.
But HOCHTIEF is primarily dependent on other players in these areas, isn’t it?
Martina Steffen No one can travel this road alone. We’ve been conducting a dialog with many suppliers for a long time now, and we’re observing that they too are ready to find sustainable solutions. HOCHTIEF wants to actively lead the way. We believe that this is already a huge competitive advantage for us and that it will be even more crucial in the future.
What contribution can HOCHTIEF make on its own?
Martina Steffen For example, we are relying on the innovative power of our employees. We have to look at projects holistically throughout their entire life cycle. What helps us here is the fact that in addition to our expertise in construction we’re also experts in the areas of design, operation, and preservation. We want to continue optimizing these processes and thus to save a great deal of energy and resources. We also rely on structural solutions: more wood instead of concrete, and materials that can be reused or completely recycled. We have to use our know-how to set the course correctly during the planning process.
How important is the digitalization of the construction industry for HOCHTIEF’s achievement of ist climate-related and sustainability goals?
Martina Steffen Digitalization is a very central element of our strategy. Our innovation subsidiaries Nexplore and ViCon have already developed many programs and tools that are helping us make construction more effective and more sustainable. To give you just one example, digitalization is enabling us to measure the consumption of resources such as electricity, water, and concrete more easily and more accurately. That way the consumption of material and energy becomes visible and measurable, and people’s awareness of it is intensified. At the same time, digitalization is helping us in many other areas to plan, construct, and operate buildings more efficiently and thus also more sustainably.
Sustainability is of course a general term that covers very diverse dimensions of corporate activity. What have you set out to do in terms of social policy, for example?
Martina Steffen At HOCHTIEF and all of the Group’s companies, we are creating a work environment where people are doing their very best and are free to be themselves. These measures include occupational and health protection and the promotion of diversity in every type of job. This is a huge task. For example, we are striving to increase the proportion of women in senior management by 50 percent by 2025. This is an ambitious goal, because the proportion of women who are studying construction engineering is less than 30 percent. That’s why we will offer more promotional programs and training courses and continue improving the transfer of know-how within the Group. We believe that workplace variety is an important topic, one that goes far beyond the issue of increasing the proportion of women.
Sustainability and ESG criteria are playing an increasingly important role on the financial market as well. Have you also noticed this at HOCHTIEF?
Martina Steffen Of course we’re noticing that the topic of sustainability has clearly gained in significance for banks and investors since the Paris climate conference in 2015. During the marketing phase of the HOCHTIEF bond issue amounting to 500 million euros in April 2021, the topic of ESG was addressed by many institutional investors. The awards, ratings, and rankings that HOCHTIEF has received for its sustainable action, as well as our reporting on this topic on our home page and elsewhere, have brought us positive feedback. We are also working hard to issue more financing instruments in a sustainable and environmentally friendly context in the future.
What requirements and changes does HOCHTIEF want legislative bodies to introduce in order to promote greater sustainability in the construction industry?
Martina Steffen Procurement law and the procurement process must include the right incentives for promoting sustainability. Our aim here is to persuade the construction industry and its clients to cooperate more closely in order to develop sustainable solutions. For example, cooperative contracts and partnership models could be used to achieve this goal. Here too, we can master these challenges only if we work together in close cooperation between the clients and the construction industry.
Ms. Steffen, thank you very much for this talk!
Published in concepts by HOCHTIEF (01/2022)