Research in focus

On track for sustainability goals

Against the background of global challenges like dwindling natural resources and a constantly growing world population, the principle of sustainability is more and more regarded as being essential. In the routine of everyday politics, however, specific goals and associated measures usually keep lagging behind recommendations made by scientists. In cooperation with the sustainability experts of Fraunhofer IBP's "Life Cycle Engineering" Department, PUMA Retail AG (domiciled in Oensingen/ Switzerland), a subsidiary of the international sports goods manufacturer PUMA (based in Herzogenaurach/Franconia), have faced this challenge and started to develop a comprehensive sustainability concept for their stores worldwide.

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That science and marketing are often judged to be conflicting concepts will probably be readily accepted; notwithstanding, target-oriented dynamism may evolve from an apparent contradiction. In this sense, Michael Jäger, research associate with the department of Life Cycle Engineering (GaBi) of Fraunhofer IBP Stuttgart stated: "When researchers and marketing experts come together to be creative, it will be interesting to see what emerges from this." At least this is the experience he made when managers of PUMA Retail AG and members of Fraunhofer IBP's Sustainable Building team met, sharing the aim of tackling the task to make PUMA stores more sustainable. In conjunction with the sports goods manufacturer's managers, IBP's sustainability experts are working on sophisticated strategies to optimize the stores with regard to sustainability. In this context, the methods of life cycle engineering (LCE) are used, which analyse products, processes and services with regard to ecological, economic, social and technical aspects.
As it turned out, it is not quite that simple to reconcile the ideas of industry representatives and researchers.  The first crucial issues were the questions "What does sustainability actually mean for PUMA?" and "Which sustainability criteria should be used to assess PUMA stores?". To enable as many decision makers as possible to participate in this discussion, PUMA called together regional managers, store planners and marketing experts from the five regions of the world. At the workshop, it was all about doing the job properly. The workshop was based on the "3-pillar model" covering economy, ecology and social aspects, the guidelines of which are used by researchers to evaluate sustainability.  In this way, a set of more than 20 assessment criteria was created, which will be used in future to evaluate the stores with regard to sustainability. In this context, it was also made sure not to miss out social criteria like barrier-free accessibility and the quality of the working environment. Geo-ecologist Tabea Beck, who participates in the project, is convinced that "the perception of sustainability will gradually be shifted from the ecological point of view to a holistic, integrated consideration of all constituents." Moreover, Michael Jäger and his project team are currently developing a software toolkit to support store designers and architects in applying sustainability requirements.
PUMA Retail AG is responsible for planning, realizing and managing direct marketing stores that sell sports goods.  Already in 1993, the well-known premium brand manufacturer committed "to promote creativity, to act in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner and to contribute to the achievement of peace," combining these aims under the headline of "PUMAVision". The corporate values  "FAIR, HONEST, POSITIVE, CREATIVE" provide the principle that guides the actions. Existing initiatives for environmental protection and improved working conditions are supplemented by new programs for cleaner, safer and more sustainable systems and processes. PUMA targets to reduce emissions by 25 percent and to use 25 percent less energy and water by 2015.
The sports goods manufacturer rises to the challenge of defining and observing strict sustainability criteria for its stores not only in Europe, but to implement LCE aspects worldwide. Nevertheless, successful marketing strategies of architects and store designers must not be neglected here, as making the customer comfortable still has to be given priority with regard to high sales volumes. Even so, more than just a stylish shopping environment is to be created as sustainability criteria need to be equally fulfilled.
Sustainability has become an issue of growing importance in sports equipment industry. PUMA has found today's consumers to be much more critical when it comes to a product's environmental compatibility.
Consumers do not only expect manufactured materials to be safe in terms of health; more and more, they also expect the manufacturer to produce goods in a sustainable and socially responsible manner.
 
"Lohas" (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) – i.e. critical consumers, who make a point of environmental and social aspects – disapprove of "Greenwashing".  "Greenwashing" or  "Greenwash" are the terms used for campaigns and PR activities that will shed a "green light" on single products, entire companies or political strategies so as to create the impression that the actors involved either acted particularly ecofriendly or in a particularly fair and ethically correct manner. Once customers find out about such doings, companies will also suffer a downturn in sales of conventional products.
The co-operation with Fraunhofer IBP'S LCE Department (GaBi) is designed to prevent PUMA from falling into the "Greenwashing trap", namely by developing criteria on the basis of secured scientific evidence. In the forthcoming months, the theoretically determined requirements will be examined and adapted using exemplary pilot stores. One of the first stores to be examined is situated more or less "on the doorstep" in the city of Munich. Apart from other European stores (like the one in Amsterdam), stores in the USA, South America, China and Russia will also be part of the pilot phase. In addition, life cycle assessments will be calculated for some selected stores. Proceeding on this basis, potentials for optimization will be identified and measures for improvement will be taken. In this way, PUMA Retail AG has its share in the context of the overarching sustainability strategy pursued by PUMA AG. "In conjunction with PUMA we are breaking new ground. We are recognizing that there is a potential to further establish the issue of sustainability in the retail business," IBP scientist Michael Jäger characterizes the situation.
 
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