Family members have run Tengelmann for over 155 years, now in its fifth generation. The family has been committed to environmental protection for more than 50 years. We spoke with CEO Christian W. E. Haub and Dr. Saskia Juretzek, Head of Sustainability, about the Group's sustainability strategy, concrete approaches to a circular economy, and cooperation with our initiative CIRCULAR REPUBLIC.
The Tengelmann Group already has a long tradition of sustainability. What is the vision behind it?
CH: We have more than 155 years of Tengelmann behind us, more than 50 of which were characterized by a high sense of responsibility and commitment to people and nature. The origins of the Tengelmann Group's commitment to sustainability go back to Elisabeth Haub, my grandmother and granddaughter of the company's founders, Wilhelm and Louise Schmitz.
At a time when environmental protection and sustainability did not yet play a role politically or socially, she recognized that our natural habitats were endangered and began to work to protect and preserve them and to build a stable legal foundation. She laid the foundation for this in 1968 when she established the Karl Schmitz Scholl Fund. Since then, she has worked hard to ensure the issue is placed on a stable legal footing, later expanding her efforts to establish a foundation.
She established student programs and chairs in environmental law and policy at several universities in the U.S. and Canada. Academic papers and projects on the subject have since been honored – now under the Elizabeth Haub School of Law umbrella at Pace University.
Subsequent generations – particularly my father, Erivan Haub, then my wife Liliane Haub, and now our daughter, Anna-Sophia Haub – have built on my grandmother's "sustainability foundation" and expanded it the past decades. Today, we are an active family equity investor who deploys strategic capital in investments, engages in entrepreneurial activities, passes on our many years of expertise, and supports its development with value-creating impulses. We are convinced that health and prosperity of the planet are the basis for the well-being and development of humanity. That is why, together with the companies we invest in, we want to help shape a future in which people and nature are aligned.
To pursue this goal in an even more targeted way in the future, we have placed sustainability even more firmly in the strategic focus of our activities. Essential steps in this direction, which I have recently also taken in collaboration with my daughter Anna-Sophia, were, for example, the establishment of a sustainability team at the holding company level and, now, with the new team, the setting up of a Group-wide sustainability strategy to which our existing and future shareholdings will be aligned with. Our Family Purpose underlines this intention: "Business can do better, can be better – for human and planetary wellbeing.” We are committed to this today and in the future.
What positive effects on value creation have taken place?
CH: In the 1980s, my father expanded our family's initially purely private environmental commitment to include the retail trade. His concern was to use his stores, and thus their reach, to raise awareness, inform and persuade on topics related to environmental protection. In this, he took on a pioneering role.
One of his first activities in 1984 was to phase out commonly sold products such as frog legs and turtle soup. Instead, he made the two animals the trademark of the "For the sake of the environment" campaign, which attracted much attention and high profile in the following years. Even today, many people associate the logo, which was depicted on shopping bags with the Tengelmann branding. Further conversions of the product range followed, such as eliminating spray cans containing CFCs, detergents containing phosphates, and disposable tableware and cutlery. Among other things, more environmentally friendly sanitary paper, reusable bottles, and the company's own organic brand named "Naturkind" were introduced – all at a time when knowledge and awareness of environmental protection were nowhere near as advanced as they are today. This new assortment policy was often accompanied by advertising campaigns in which my father wanted to encourage politicians, society, and competitors to rethink their approach. In many places, he was successful in doing so: many consumers responded positively to the changes, and other supermarkets gradually made similar decisions in favor of environmental protection. The fact that he did not meet with universal approval only motivated him to continue.
Later – in addition to pursuing sustainable product strategies, during the purchase of fish and seafood while protecting existing ecosystems and fish stocks – the commitment also expanded to include concrete climate protection measures. In 2008, for example, the “Tengelmann Klimamarkt” was the first resource-saving, climate-neutral supermarket. And we have always done a great deal to help our employees, for instance, by offering them a respectful working environment, many opportunities for further training, and an excellent work-life balance. This will continue to be the case in the future!
SJ: The existing activities can be easily identified in the newly developed sustainability framework. In addition to the 'Planetary Wellbeing' pillar, which builds on the environmental commitment of the past and expands and refines it once again with a focus on decarbonization and acting within planetary boundaries, the second pillar, 'Human Wellbeing' contains concrete measures for our employees and society, for example in the area of employee development. The aim is to implement the sustainability framework together with all shareholdings and within their respective business models. Here, too, we are building on what already exists, for example, at KiK, which already has a comprehensive sustainability program and is firmly committed to occupational health and safety and education with a high degree of proximity to production sites in Bangladesh and Pakistan, among others.
What are the challenges for established companies in implementing material cycles?
SJ: The high importance and urgency of reducing raw material consumption and closing material loops still face various challenges. To name just a few of them: a far too high consumption of resources and energy, recycling and reuse rates that are too low, a lack of infrastructure to collect, transport, and store materials, or technical difficulties in separating materials. Unfortunately, the industry still needs to move towards a circular economy on a larger scale.
There is no alternative but focusing on throwing away less while steadily increasing the rate of recycled resources. Product redesign must consider how resources can be used more efficiently throughout their life cycle. This requires innovation, investment, behavioral change, and sharing and collaboration among many stakeholders – one reason for us to join CIRCULAR REPUBLIC.
What are Tengelmann's specific aspirations about circular business, and what projects will be implemented in 2023?
CH: The Tengelmann Group is convinced that the circular economy is the key to a sustainable future. The circularity principle plays a central role in our sustainability strategy. We want to ensure that our holdings are oriented towards circular business in the coming years.
SJ: Admittedly, we are still in the early stages of implementation. Even though there are already some initial smaller ideas and projects from individual portfolio companies, we are only now getting started in parallel with our work in the CIRCULAR REPUBLIC. Through the project which we carry out as part of our cooperation within the initiative, KiK will be the first of our portfolio companies to work out how the circular economy can be implemented in the textile industry. The kick-off for the project took place just recently, and we are looking forward to reporting on progress later this year.
How will the collaboration with CIRCULAR REPUBLIC support these goals?
SJ: CIRCULAR REPUBLIC provides an excellent opportunity for us to accelerate the shift within the group towards a more circular economy. In the initiative, we will be able to exchange ideas with other companies from the same industry that are facing similar issues as we are, and get in touch with start-ups with innovative ideas and approaches to the challenges facing our industry. The exchange, collaboration, and, ultimately, the development of concrete solutions are based on the latest insights and approaches.
CH: Overall, exceptional circumstances to work with combined forces towards our goals regarding the reduction of our impact on the environment, as well as the prosperity of people.
Thank you very much for the interview!
About the Tengelmann Group
The Tengelmann Group is an active, entrepreneurial family equity investor based in Munich with activities mainly in Europe and the USA. The focus of its involvement is currently on retail, real estate, as well as growth and venture capital to provide the value-creating impetus for the successful development of the companies. The Tengelmann Group holds stakes in KiK, OBI, Babymarkt, No Meat Factory, and the real estate company TREI, among others, and invests globally in various start-ups. The Group generates annual sales of 10 billion euros and employs more than 70,000 people. Tengelmann Twenty-One KG is the strategic holding company in which the issue of sustainability is driven forward for the entire corporate group.
Christian W. E. Haub (CEO)
Christian Haub is the sole managing majority shareholder of the Tengelmann Group and Chairman of the Management Board of Tengelmann Twenty-One KG. He is the founder and Chairman of Emil Capital Partners, the Tengelmann Group's US venture capital company. Previously, he served as CEO of Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc. (A&P) in North America for many years. He began his professional career in 1989 in investment banking with Dillon Read in New York. He is a member of the board of directors of Metro Inc. in Montreal, one of Canada’s largest food and drug retailers. Christian Haub studied social sciences and economics at the University of Economics and Business Administration in Vienna and graduated with "diploma".
Dr. Saskia Juretzek (Head of Sustainability)
Saskia Juretzek is a sustainability expert with over twelve years of experience promoting sustainability in organizations, including Accenture, Telefónica Deutschland, and Allianz SE. After receiving a diploma in International Business Administration, she completed her Ph.D. at the University of Lüneburg on the subject of successful sustainability strategy implementation and researched the required competencies. Since June 2022, she has been managing the group-wide sustainability activities of Tengelmann Twenty-One KG. She also regularly lectures on sustainability management and is an advisory board member of the MBA "Trend and Sustainability Management" at HfWU. In 2020, she co-founded “Futurewoman” to empower women in sustainability.