In 2017, the ZEISS Vision Care strategic business unit began using the motto "Green, Safe & Responsible" to pool over 280 initiatives in a global program to strategically anchor and drive sustainability.
Once an order for custom eyeglass lenses is received and processed, the journey of two suitable semi-finished lenses begins: conveyor belts transport the trays from one station to the next – eventually resulting in two finished eyeglass lenses. Most lenses are made from a single semi-finished plastic lens – which is known as a puck because of its shape.
Material savings in eyeglass lens production
In order to keep the amount of plastic waste generated during production as low as possible, the ZEISS Vision Care strategic business unit has optimized the pucks so that less plastic is needed to produce them. This has enabled the company to reduce the amount of plastic used in each lens by up to 65 percent with new, thinner and more versatile semi-finished lenses. This translated into savings of 100 tonnes of plastic in the last 18 months, and the lower weight of the pucks has meant that their global transportation now emits around 100 tonnes less CO2. Removing the plastic in the pucks' packaging also saves 260 tonnes of plastic each year. This corresponds to annual savings for all pucks that equate to 11 million plastic bags.
Strategically implementing sustainability through GSR
Saving plastic while producing eyeglass lenses is part of the "Green, Safe & Responsible" (GSR) initiative run by ZEISS Vision Care. It was launched in fiscal year 2017/18 and focuses on further improving the company's performance in the following areas: the environment, occupational health and safety, and social engagement. More than 280 local and global individual activities have since been launched; 140 of these are already complete.
By pooling the numerous individual initiatives and strategically implementing sustainability at the international level, the core team – comprising Stephan Hund and Emanuele Novelli – aims to further drive the initiative along with their colleagues at all sites worldwide. Novelli assumed the newly created role of Sustainability Manager in early 2019 and has since been focusing fully on sustainability topics at ZEISS Vision Care.
Preparations complete for assessing measures
"We focused on three main topics in order to drive the strategic alignment of the project," says Novelli. Besides launching sustainability projects – the actual core of the initiative – the task was to focus particularly on the impact the measures are having. "We first needed to lay the foundations to launch a monitoring system with specific key performance indicators (KPIs)," recalls Hund, Head of Quality at ZEISS Vision Care, and in charge of the Environment, Health and Safety, and the GSR initiative. To collect consistent data, terms and definitions had to be harmonized and systemized across all global sites of the strategic business unit. It was possible to build on the exact basis that Dr. Uwe Hamm had created at the different sites over the last decade in his role as Corporate Environmental Officer. That's why the data was made consistent in collaboration with him and Carl Zeiss Energie GmbH. "At the same time, communication on the sustainability topics is to be stepped up in order to reach certain stakeholders such as talented individuals, customers and employees," says Novelli, explaining the third pillar of the GSR initiative. This also includes the integration of communication and marketing departments in the overall process.
The team at ZEISS Vision Care has now created the structures for implementing sustainability initiatives. The initiative has established work groups for the Environmental, Occupational Health and Safety, and Energy Managers from the respective production sites worldwide. These feed into ongoing experience and knowledge sharing. "There is an international network of GSR officers who are communicating and implementing the measures at the different sites," says Novelli. He's certain that "Sustainability must play a role for all company departments and functions – and it must be championed, too."
Creating awareness and picking up speed
And that's precisely where ZEISS Vision Care currently faces another challenge: that of creating awareness and consistently and systematically pursuing the KPIs. "We have to check, on an ongoing basis, whether or not the individual measures are having the desired impact and make adjustments as needed," says Hund. The team is also working on improving the implementation speed. "Once we've successfully anchored the topic of sustainability across all areas of the company – be it while developing new products, in the production areas or in sales – then we will start to pick up speed," says Novelli confidently, and is counting on Team ZEISS. "This will only work if we all work together." In Aalen, for example, as much single-use plastic as possible is being removed – using glasses instead of disposable plastic cups, spoons instead of stirrers, and no disposable cups at the water dispensers. "It's incredible how much we can save through such simple changes. Even though our plans have been somewhat halted by the coronavirus pandemic, we have managed to save almost one tonne each year in Aalen alone," says Novelli. He believes it is important for everyone to rethink and adapt their habits.
Hund believes this new mindset necessitates a change in day-to-day behavior that simply won't happen overnight. "It's a learning curve for the entire organization. If we can successfully adjust the way we think, then sustainability won't be something else to think about – it will be part of our daily work."
Sustainability ensures long-term success
"At ZEISS, sustainability and business success are inextricably linked," says Dr. Nicole Ziegler, Head of Sustainability at ZEISS. As a Carl Zeiss Foundation company, responsible action is a top priority for ZEISS and one that has been a tradition for 130 years. Environmental protection, social engagement, ethical behavior and sustainable improvements in the value chain are all part of this. Sustainability is also enshrined in the brand, through the attribute "responsible." Ziegler stresses: "Trust in the brand is one reason why customers opt for ZEISS. And in order to be their first choice, we have to be a reliable partner by taking responsible action."
For further information on sustainability at ZEISS, please click here.