Protecting the climate and the environment, social commitment and solid corporate governance apply throughout the entire value chain at Symrise. “The company continues to fine-tune the structured process that has been in place since the IPO in 2006,” Chief Sustainability Officer Bernhard Kott explains in an interview. Symrise intends to achieve its goals with clearly defined priorities, in cooperation with strong partners and with the great commitment of its employees.


Mr. Kott, the United Nations have established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with which Symrise is aligned. Can you approach all these goals simultaneously or do you have to set priorities?

First of all, economic success, sustainability and social acceptance are inextricably linked for us. Sustainability is an integral component of the corporate strategy, which we observe and bolster in all our processes. Therefore, we work to fulfill all the SDGs along our value chain in a transparent way for our shareholders. But we of course have to pool our resources in some areas and focus on certain processes and projects. Anything else would be inefficient.

How do you decide where to use which resources and what do you see as particularly important?

We launched a structured process in order to also be able to properly establish our priorities. In doing so, we placed the SDGs at the forefront and have formulated our ambitions in a systematic way, which is also relevant to our business. That is because we can only achieve what we set out to do if we combine economic success with sustainability efforts. Our first step is to minimize our carbon footprint along the value chain. Then, we want to maximize the sustainability of our portfolio with regard to the procurement of raw materials in order to positively influence society and the environment. Last but not least, we want to improve the living conditions of our stakeholders under the concept of “care.” As part of that, we also defined an entire host of more concrete goals.

How do you include the stakeholders in these processes?

We used a materiality analysis to determine which sustainability topics are the most important to us. This entailed looking deeply into the four topics mentioned above. To achieve this, we surveyed 1,300 employees and experts, including customers, investors and suppliers. The key question was: “What are the main effects of our business activities on the environment, nature and society?”

What was the result?

We identified four top priorities through the analysis: climate protection and climate change adaptation, procurement and human rights, use of raw materials and the circular economy as well as environmental protection and biodiversity.

We want to be climate-neutral along the entire supply chain, including the raw materials pro­duced by suppliers, by 2045.Bernhard Kott, CSO Symrise

Chief Sustainability Officer Bernhard Kott sees sustainability as an integral part of the corporate strategy.

How do you fulfill them individually?

When it comes to the topic of “climate protection and climate change adaptation,” for instance, we pursue the goal of reducing our Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions so that we can become climate positive in this area starting in 2030. This includes energy sources such as oil and gas that are supplied to the company by energy service providers and the electricity generated by ourselves or purchased from electricity suppliers. And, incidentally, we have been sourcing electricity from renewable sources only since 2020. In terms of Scope 3, which comprises emissions arising from the procurement of raw materials or from transport, we intend to achieve an increase in efficiency compared to 2020 of 30 % by 2025. For this purpose, we developed a Low Carbon Transition Plan, which we address through many projects. Our targets are recognized as most ambitious by the Science Based Targets initiative (Positively into the future). We thus intend to be climate-neutral along the entire supply chain, including the raw materials produced by suppliers, by 2045.

When it comes to Scope 3, success also depends on the actions of suppliers. How can you influence them?

We are in constant communication with our main suppliers regarding how they can approach our ambitious science- based targets. By now, 87 % of them have set their own climate protection targets. We also keep an eye on ESG criteria concerning our smaller suppliers – meaning the environmental, social and governance aspects.

This brings us to the topic of procurement and human rights. Where do we stand in this regard?

The German Supply Chain Act has been in place since the beginning of 2023, and we have to meet its requirements as of this year. We will need to report on our risks and remedial measures at the beginning of 2024. But we are already assuming responsibility for our suppliers concerning, for example, the observance of internationally recognized human rights and certain environmental standards. That’s no small feat considering we work with more than 15,000 direct and indirect suppliers worldwide. We expect the supply chain act to be enacted at the EU level in late 2023, which is likely to contain more stringent requirements and will need to be translated into national law within a period of two years. We began with the introduction of a systematic process in 2021 that will allow us to identify human rights and environmental risks on our suppliers’ side. Also, the Executive Board published the human rights policy statement at the beginning of last year. We also published guidelines on responsible sourcing and the Code of Conduct for suppliers in the middle of last year.

In addition to that, you introduced the position of human rights officer in the Group.

Our “Responsible Sourcing Steering Committee” (RSSC), in which our Corporate Sustainability team works with the segments’ purchasing managers and their sustainability officers to implement the requirements of the Supply Chain Due Diligence Law, took up activities back in April 2021. The human rights officer recently appointed by the Executive Board monitors the manage­ment of the risks associated with our suppliers as well as the remedial and preventive measures introduced. He has also introduced a grievance mechanism that allows external interest groups to anonymously report human rights and environ­mental violations to the Sustainability Office without the fear of reprisals.

The third point, use of raw materials and the circular economy, also concerns the purchasing of products. How was the focus set on the circular economy?

It has been one of the main elements of our business model for a long time, but we never really talked much about it. We implement the principles of the circular economy in our entire raw material and product portfolio by fully using raw materials wherever possible, avoiding by-products or reintroducing materials in production processes – thus also avoiding recycling costs. For example, the ingredients of one-third of our fragrance compositions are based on wood, which we utilize in this way. The circular economy will be decisive to reach our climate and environmental targets. Because one thing is very clear: We consume too many raw materials, create too much waste for the planet, and don’t even fully use its resources. Let’s take a look at the food industry, for example: Today, a third of global agricultural production is lost or wasted along the food chain. In addition, the mining and processing of raw materials is responsible for 50 % of global greenhouse gas emissions and 90 % of bio­diversity loss.

These goals are enhanced by the last aspect: environmental protection and biodiversity. How do you want to progress in this area?

In 2010, Symrise defined a climate strategy that will make us more sustainable in all areas. That means we are well positioned. To maintain that, we pursue numerous certifications, align with the science-based targets and report on our sustainability activities in a transparent way. In addition, we participate in initiatives. Let me give you an example of this: In June 2022, Eder Ramos, our Global President of the Fragrance division, was appointed honorary Chairman of the Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT), an international nonprofit organization that promotes the responsible sourcing of raw materials. We can thus make an active contribution here. Another example: We now integrate nature-related risks and opportunities into our decision-making process as specified in the international Task Force on Nature- related Financial Disclosure.

At the beginning of 2023, it was announced that Symrise had once again earned top marks in the yearly sustain­ability ratings of renowned nonprofit organization CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project. How important are such accolades?

We are always happy to receive them because they show that our dedicated work is bearing fruit. For its protection of the climate, water, and forests, Symrise received three A grades in the annual CDP sustainability rating. Based on the CDP data from the 2022 program, Symrise is one of 13 companies to receive three A grades – out of 15,000 participating companies worldwide. Symrise has therefore fulfilled the stringent sustainability criteria for the third time in a row, building on its achievements in the previous year. This all means that we are on the right path, and we will continue to pursue it together with our employees and partners.