The German consultant Hachmeister+Partner recently organized its first H+P Sustainability Round Table "Rethinking together” in Munich. Keynote speaker of the event was Christoph Engl, CEO, Oberalp Group, who provided impulses from the world of mountain sports.

Christoph Engl, CEO, Oberalp Group
Photo: Oberalp
Christoph Engl, CEO, Oberalp Group
"The dumpling shows how circularity has always been lived in the mountains," said Engl. "Stale bread is mixed with milk and eggs and thus comes back onto the table,” he added, showing he knows how to present a topic in a tasty way. 

Engl is a proven expert who was managing director of Südtirol Marketing Gesellschaft for many years and introduced the umbrella brand Südtirol, among other projects. Today Engl is head of the Oberalp Group, the outdoor apparel and gear specialist from South Tyrol, Italy, that owns brands like Salewa, Dynafit and Lamunt, among others.

He was also one of the keynote speakers at the round table, to which the management consultancy Hachmeister+Partner (H+P) has invited a dozen representatives from industry and commerce, universities and start-ups to network, to discuss and rethink how to approach business together.

Unlike the recently held Textile Wirtschaft Sustainability Summit, this even was primarily about exchanging experiences and bringing different perspectives together. Keynote speeches by Christoph Engl and retailer Marc Ramelow opened the event, and it concluded with a design thinking session on the second day, where participants were asked to develop a new product in two project groups, and think beyond just the product. 

Franziska von Becker from H+P liked the image of the lump. So far, however, she preferred to talk about a tree to illustrate the idea of sustainable business. "Originally, the idea of sustainable management comes from forestry. You only take as much out of the forest as you can replant,” she said. Von Becker joined the German consultancy earlier this year; previously, she was a member of Armedangels' management team as chief product officer, and she is expected to help drive the issue of sustainability at H+P.

Franziska von Becker, H+P
Photo: H+P
Franziska von Becker, H+P
Oberalp Group, however, the word sustainability is frowned upon. "Words like sustainability don't express what we actually need to do. They express what the effect is when we take on social responsibility. That's why our key word is ‘contribute'," Engl said.

The ambitious goal of Oberalp Group was to reach Net Zero Emissions by 2030. "We could easily afford climate neutrality as early as next year. But we don't want that. We want to train, and improve in the design of products.”

As responsibly as people in the mountains have always handled stale bread, he said, companies need to think in terms of products, operations, processes and business models. In business models that go beyond just selling products. "Customers don't buy a product. They buy your idea," Engl believes.

The Oberalp Group has launched its first projects primarily not focused on selling products, but on providing services. For instance, it created a care station in the Salewa store in Munich, for example, to repair and, therefore, to ensure that products can last as long as possible. 

It has also launched the Alpine Campus. Started as a training concept for Salewa's own employees, it has then become a tour provider for all interested partners.

All these initiatives are certainly more obvious for a mountain sports specialist than for a fashion supplier. Though, how to reconcile the principles of "reduce, reuse, recycle" with the fashion industry is something that representatives of all the companies participating at the workshop - From Betty Barclay to Dr. Bock Industries, from Ahlers to Bültel, from Mac to Seidensticker, from Henschel to Ramelow - were thinking about.

Left: Kai Brune (Henschel), Marc Ramelow (Ramelow)
Photo: Mara Javorovic
Left: Kai Brune (Henschel), Marc Ramelow (Ramelow)
"The more you learn, the worse you feel at first," said Marc Ramelow, owner of the Ramelow store in Elmshorn, that launched a survey on sustainability among his about 120 suppliers back in 2018. Since then, he has learned that every supplier understands something different about sustainability. "I remember how one jacket supplier sold us his collection as sustainable because a tree was planted in a forest for every jacket from a specific brand. My first thought was: 'Guys, you can't be serious.' Later I thought, 'Well, it's better than nothing.' At least it’s something moving in that direction."

Better than not acting at all for fear of possible greenwashing accusations. "We don't say we're perfect, either. And we have never been confronted with such accusations so far," Ramelow reported. At the same time, he says, he has experienced that some customers do ask whether a product is sustainably produced, but they often don't want to know exactly and in detail about it. Similarly, the interest of the local press in a press event on the achievement of climate neutrality was practically near to zero.

Ramelow also no longer likes to use the term “sustainability”. He prefers to talk about a balance of corporate responsibility with economic profit and ecological and social responsibility. In simpler terms: people, planet and profit - you can't have one without the other. The conflicting goals that go hand in hand with this also become clear again and again in this round. When industry representatives report on complaints from retailers who on the one hand demand CO2-friendly shipping, but then complain about wrinkles in the goods transported horizontally. 

They also complain about the excessive cost of more sustainable materials in times of exploding procurement costs, when retailers think about how reducing CO2 becomes part of a profitable business model and when a producer points out that his company naturally depends on further growth to survive in global competition. And also when the representative of the recycling start-up explains to those present why they should not pin all their hopes on recycling.

The need for discussion is immense. And so, this first round is only intended as a prelude to regular meeting so that the circle closes, at least on a small scale.

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