dm and Unilever assume responsibility


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2015)

The light metal aluminium is a reusable material which uses much less energy when it is recycled than it does when it is first extracted. In addition it can be re and upcycled as often as necessary without any loss of quality. With the initiative ‘R’cycle!’, the drugstore dm and Unilever raise awareness of the sustainable use of recyclable materials: hundreds of children’s bicycles are being made from empty deodorant cans. Peter Dekkers, Vice President, Customer Development at Unilever and Christoph Werner, dm Managing Director, responsible for the marketing and procurement department and Erich Harsch, Chairman of the dm Executive Board told us more about the social project.

How did you come up with the idea of creating the initiative ‘R’cycle’ together?

Peter Dekkers: The idea emerged with the Unilever launch of compressed deodorants. With the change of 150 ml deodorant cans to 75 ml with the same yield, we manage to save 31 tonnes of aluminium annually for example - when we calculate on the basis of a million users who utilise five sprays per year. The compressed format represents an example of our goal to reduce packaging and make our product more environmentally friendly. As dm supports the sustainable product innovations of its partners in the industry and takes responsibility for the reusable materials brought onto the market, we are the ideal partners here. Sustainability is part of the identity of both companies.

Christoph Werner: A lot of market research reflects the fact that customers want less packaging and the ability to recycle. Therefore, linking compressed and recycling as well as the exciting topic of aluminium and the related information was only natural. The only question was how. So we overlapped the main points of both companies on sustainability strategies: dm, which is extremely active for cultural development and is socially, and above all locally organised, and Unilever, which has launched a more sustainable product onto the market with a sustainable product innovation. That’s when the idea of collecting aluminium cans was born, using them for the already existing internal dm infrastructure and drawing up our own transparent recycling process, which represents the recyclable material aluminium at the end and describes its range of possible uses with the example ‘from deodorant can to child’s bicycle’.

Why did you decide on childrens’ bicycles?

C. W.: A child’s bicycle is a symbol of sustainable transportation, it is usable over a long period and supports children in developing their motor skills. Bicycles can be made available to many socially committed organisations and are therefore predestined for nationwide distribution in Germany.

To what extent do both your companies involve themselves actively in the project?

P. D.: We are cooperation partners of dm and have introduced TerraCycle as a contract partner. This company is responsible for the coordination of the entire recycling process - from the collection of the cans to bicycle production. Each individual step is accompanied by dm and by us.

C. W.: There have been recycling stations in all of the more than 1,700 dm stores, where customers can bring lamps and light bulbs, empty batteries and different packaging materials, for many years. In all of these stations we have integrated a box for empty deodorant cans and other aluminium cans. In addition, we are actively designing cross-media customer communication at the POS and digitally. 

Why do you use empty deodorant cans as a recyclable material?

P. D.: With the project, both companies clearly show how a transparent recycling process works. The initiative integrates the customers into the recycling process and positively involves them in the donation of children’s bicycles. In addition to the reduction, recycling of packaging is extremely important - we demonstrate this with the recyclable material aluminium.  Particularly materials which cause a large environmental impact in their primary extraction process should be recycled.   

How many cans are necessary to be able to produce one child’s bicycle?

C. W.: An aluminium frame for a child’s bicycle is produced from about 400 aluminium cans.

What different looks do the bikes have and who do you donate them to?

P. D.: The bicycle manufacturer Nicolai produces self-designed, high-quality and hand-welded children’s bikes in Lübbrechtsen in Lower Saxony, Germany. She is one of the few manufacturers who still produces complete aluminium frames in Germany.  The 24-inch children’s bikes have a uniform look and are of course tested by the TÜV (German Technical Supervision Association).

C. W.: The children’s bikes go to over 200 local social institutions from all over Germany. ‚Die Arche Berlin’, which commits itself to children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds receives 10 of these bikes. Another local recipient of donations is the Löwenzahnschule in Moringen near Göttingen, Germany. A complete overview of all social institutions and a short film to illustrate the recycling process of deodorant cans and the production of the children’s bicycles can be seen on our website.

How do you make customers aware of R’cycle!?

P. D.: The basis for the collection campaign is the dm recycling station. As a result of branch campaigns and accompanying communication such as communication stands, billboards and flyers, the initiative is explained to the customers and they are motivated to take part in the collection. The initiative is even digitally communicated via regional Facebook posts, a landing page and with a film.    

Until when is the campaign in action?

C. W.: Our goal is to collect cans for 800 hand-made children’s bicycles by the end of April 2016.

What philosophy do your companies live generally on the subject of corporate social responsibility?

P. D.: Sustainability is an integral part of Unilever‘s business strategy. Therefore we have set ourselves the goal of making this part of our everyday. We live in an unstable world which is influenced by environmental changes, a growing population as well as diminishing resources. A business model based on sustainability is therefore the only way for us to grow in the future.   

Erich Harsch: We also carry responsibility for our environment, for man and nature. Sustainability is not a business goal but part of our identity. We try to observe it in all facets. Generally, we understand sustainability in four dimensions: economically, ecologically, socially and culturally. We consider the cultural sustainability to be central and and put our focus here in order to have an appropriate effect on and be able to shape the other dimensions.  

Why, in your opinion, is it important that industrial companies do something for the society?

P. D.: The world is changing - climate change is showing its effects. We can only be successful as a company if we can make a sustainable lifestyle part of our everyday. We reach two billion people all over the world with our products on a daily basis. From this comes great responsibility and the opportunity to use this contact positively for a more sustainable way of living.    

E. H.: Committing yourself in this way for people and to take responsibility for society in this way is something fundamentally necessary. Values play an essential role here, as they are influenced by attitudes. And in each attitude lies the fundamental motivation for decisions and actions.

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