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As a native of the North Sea coast, I’ve always had an emotional connection with the sea. I like to remember certain moments from my childhood and youth: Sunday walks along the beach, cold breezes, and greedy seagulls.
And that’s why I’m shocked whenever I hear about floating islands of garbage in the ocean that are as big as Mexico or whenever I have to walk along polluted beaches. Approximately eight million tons of plastic land in the ocean every year — eight million tons too many.
Sustainability — from daily life at home to the office
During my student days I started to become actively engaged with this issue and to think critically about what I consume every day.
Ultimately I would like to incorporate such issues into my professional life as well. At Daimler, obviously we encounter the topic of sustainability in connection with our most important products: vehicles. But of course there are also many other areas where we focus on sustainability at Daimler — for example, in our catering.
When caterers start to call the shots
The Group’s catering company, Daimler Gastronomie, is Germany’s biggest company-owned mass catering service. It provides our colleagues with food and beverages at 11 locations, in 29 customer restaurants, and 74 company-owned “shops.” Every day it feeds around 40,000 of our colleagues. That adds up to approximately 9,600,000 meals and snacks annually — ranging from hot lunches to cups of coffee and chocolate bars bought for an afternoon snack.
The company is already promoting sustainability in a variety of ways — for example, by focusing on regional and seasonal products.
Now it’s ready to go to the next level: In three steps, Daimler Gastronomie aims to make its operations throughout Germany free of single-use plastics. The goal is to reduce garbage — especially plastic refuse — on our plant grounds and make people more mindful of what they consume every day.
Step 1: Nice jute bags instead of boring plastic bags
The project was launched last year within a creative competition. It was all about who could develop the most creative motif for a Daimler cloth bag? The winning motifs were printed, and the printed cloth bags were quickly sold out — 12,500 bags in all.
Meanwhile, all plastic bags disappeared from the shops. Since then, only paper bags are to be found there.
Step 2: Sustainable small items and lunchboxes
Just over two weeks ago, the campaign continued with the “lesser evils” offered by the catering company. Stirrers, drinking straws, and plastic snack bags have recently disappeared from the canteens and shops on plant grounds. Instead, customers now have options made of more sustainable raw materials such as paper and wood.
It’s high time for me to take a look around in the nearest shop! Everything seems to be the same as always. Around me I see just as many colleagues as usual buying a piece of fruit, a pretzel or beverage during their break. Everyone seems satisfied! Only the posters and flyers catch my eye: Something must have changed.
I decide to conduct an experiment in my capacity as a sustainability-minded customer. I select a portion of fruit and take a pretzel from the baked goods shelf. Paper bags have now been put out here for the customers. But what I like especially is the fact that customers are also allowed to bring their own lunchboxes along. I tried this out immediately.
Here’s my quick preliminary conclusion: This is neither less hygienic nor more complicated — it’s no problem at all.
At the cashier’s desk here in the shop I also see that some of the cloth bags from last year’s campaign are still for sale. To my knowledge, a new edition of these cloth bags will be available soon. I’m looking forward to see what motifs will be printed on them, and I’m happy that I’ll be able to not only reuse them but also make a public statement about sustainability. Making small changes doesn’t hurt, and it can even be a lot of fun.
Step 3: Boxes for transporting meals and reusable beverage cups
But that’s not all that Daimler Gastronomie is doing. In the course of this year, it will introduce additional alternatives to plastic packaging. For example, it will serve hot meals in sustainable boxes.
After all, it’s high time to put an end to the piles of garbage consisting of throwaway beverage cups. The reusable Daimler “coffee to go” cups have been on sale in all Daimler shops and cafés since last year, and in the logical next step the single-use variant will disappear.
Small items made of plastic: It’s the total amount that matters
There’s still a lot to do. But for me personally, this idea is very energizing. Ultimately, this initiative of our catering company shows that if we tackle challenges together, we can achieve a lot.
To people who think that all of this is only a drop in the bucket, I’d like to point out that around 4,800 employees in the Untertürkheim plant alone shop for food every day. Of that number, about 2,800 colleagues come to the shops in the morning to buy their breakfast — including bags of snacks.
And even though it’s true that a single jute bag can’t stop climate change, these small steps are necessary. That’s because at the end of the day it’s the sum total of the individual actions — even if they are small — that can actually make a difference.
The first proof that we can change something if we pull together is the fact that in just two weeks we were already able to eliminate 400,000 plastic snack bags. At that rate, we can eliminate approximately ten million plastic snack bags in Germany in one year. In other words, we can cut down a huge amount of plastic rubbish.
What I’ve learned from this campaign
I’ve definitely learned something from this campaign — namely, what it means to integrate sustainable behavior into my workplace as a Daimler employee.
I’d like to share my three most important tips with you:
- Be mindful: Sustainability starts with your choice of a product! We’re often so stuck in our routines that we automatically reach for the most convenient solution. However, it’s always worthwhile to take a closer look at all the products on offer and all the possibilities. What am I actually buying? How is it packaged? And what’s the best way to carry it? In some cases it’s also worthwhile to ask questions!
- Go into action: If you really want to change something, you have to go into action yourself. This means that we should try to generate as little garbage as possible, avoid plastic packaging, and use alternative products instead! The actions of every individual add up to a massive total.
- Set an example: If we pay attention to what we consume during our daily work, we’ll also be encouraging our colleagues to change their mindset. In the best case, we may even trigger an interesting discussion about sustainability and our environment. That’s how we can increase people’s awareness of these important issues.
I strongly hope that not only the North Sea but also all of the world’s great oceans will become cleaner in the future. Every single one of us can ultimately make a difference.