Marcel Niederberger is a busy man. As Head of Sustainability for V-ZUG he steers the company’s multifaceted approach to reducing the company’s environmental footprint and takes his accountability for the impact of 5.5 million households in Switzerland using V-ZUG products daily very seriously.
“Sustainability is something which is very close to my heart, personally; it’s important for me, for my family, for my friends,” says Niederberger. “But to on take the responsibility for this very important topic for V-ZUG gives me much purpose. There’s still so much to do – it’s a big challenge, not just for the company, but for society in general.”
The company’s appliances have always had some of the best energy ratings – that’s just the Swiss culture of efficiency and precision for you – but they are also the physical representation of V-ZUG’s deeply-embedded, circular product lifecycle which combines careful design, facility optimisation, material innovation and offsetting. This reduce/avoid/compensate philosophy saw the company achieve carbon neutral status for the production of its appliances in 2020.
Where carbon emissions can’t be avoided in the manufacturing process, V-ZUG offsets that with carbon credits – nothing new there – but then it also charges itself an internal ‘tax’ of CHF 120/tCO2, which is a unique approach. These levies then fund new carbon-reducing initiatives, whether that be a capital project, such as a current green hydrogen pilot, or covering an additional operational cost, such as fast-tracking its move to using green trucks for distribution.
Where offsetting is concerned, Niederberger agrees that this is a complex area and increasingly a controversial one, with some highly publicised examples of forest management projects simply not delivering what was promised. Niederberger and his team have avoided this unfortunate situation through the selection of its offsetting partner, the Ripa Gar Foundation, and the location of its re-forestation project in Scotland, a country which has a mature, reliable and robust carbon code in place that is Government supported and which mitigates for possible loss through fire or disease. This has seen Ripa Gar plant over 800,000 trees to date at Glen Lochay in the Scottish Highlands.
“It is very important for us to have a carbon removal project [in addition to the company’s carbon avoidance efforts] so with re-forestation that means those trees will be removing CO2 from the atmosphere […] And then the Woodland Carbon Code sends an external validator to see if the trees are still there, if they are growing, and every 10 years you get a new assessment about how much CO2 is being stored in the forest.”
Another aspect of the offsetting project, what has become known as the ‘V-Forest’, is that it is also a re-wilding project which seeks to increase biodiversity; this is in contrast to some carbon offset forests which are vast tracts of fast-growing monoculture plantings. V-ZUG staff have seen this biodiversity restoration first hand, witnessing the reappearance of wildlife in the area including Golden Eagles during planting drives at Glen Lochay. Niederberger says these opportunities to experience the forest, although limited to UK-based staff are an important touch point and reminder of the ‘why’ of sustainability.
“In our modern world, we hardly see any nature anymore. If you are in a city, everything is very comfortable, electrified, digitalised, and we easily lose connection to Mother Nature. In my opinion, for all society, we need to have more connection to nature and to our planet – to see that we are dependent on the planet, not the other way around. Because often we think we can shape Mother Nature, and that’s just not true. The planet will survive anyway, it’s just a question of if we are part of it or not. That’s why it’s very important to create this closeness.”
V-Forest also gives staff a tangible insight into the intangible world of carbon offsetting, allowing them to point to customers to a very concrete example of how the company is addressing carbon reduction and removal. Indeed, this has led to the development of the company’s Carbon WebShop. One of the company’s catchwords is ‘simplexity’ – combining complex technology with optimal ease of use – and this tool is V-ZUG’s lastest example of simplexity in action.
With three clicks a customer can offset the carbon of their own use of an appliance for up to fifteen years via certified Ripa Gar credits. This is a concept well-established in the aviation industry but a first for the appliance sector. After selecting the relevant oven, dishwasher or dryer model, the price is calculated to the average consumer electricity mix of your country, and you also have the option of re-adjusting this again if you use renewable energy. A straightforward FAQ explains the workings behind the assessments, with links to sources for consumers who really want to delve into the fine print.
There is, of course, the risk that once this simple process is complete that carbon production becomes out-of-sight-out-of-mind for the user, but V-ZUG’s ongoing interaction with the customer post-sale kicks in to keep sustainability in the conversation.
“We educate our consumers that how you use your appliances really matters. So if you completely fill your washing machine, that’s different to letting it run with two pairs of socks, for example. Or if you wash your clothes on lower temperatures, like 30 degrees, our appliances make sure they will be as clean as using 60 degrees all the time. Or how to use the resting energy in your oven to complete a dish, turning off the oven 10 minutes before to save energy, and so on. And that’s why we’ve introduced this new platform. It’s not just about compensation. It’s also about energy saving tips. Because we always say that the most renewable and sustainable kilowatt hour is the one that we know that we are not using.”