For years, Symrise has integrated the topic of sustainability into its business processes. Chief Sustainability Officer Bernhard Kott explains in this interview how that is achieved. One thing is clear: The way to becoming a company that acts sustainably in all respects requires solid structures, a high level of innovation and total commitment. 


For some years now, Symrise has constantly ­included one factor in its communication: In ad­dition to business targets and achievements, sustainability is always mentioned. Will it stay like that in the future?

For us, sustainability is part of our DNA and has become an integral component of our strategy. We neither want to nor can we continue without it. Therefore, we will continue to ask ourselves now and in the future whether each decision we make meets our ESG criteria – meaning whether our environmental and social interests as well as good corporate governance are considered. Because we can only conduct business successfully if we act sustainably. To answer your question: Yes, sustainability is here to stay. I think that, at some point, we will not communicate it as often because it will have truly become a matter of course.

In your view, what are the most important ­motivating factors to act sustainably?

There are several. One of them is, for example, the fact that we rely more and more on natural raw materials in all of our divisions. That means nature is one of the most decisive success factors for us. We will only be able to obtain and process sufficiently diverse raw materials of the highest quality in the future if we protect biodiversity, the climate and human rights. This is another reason we focus so intensively on backward integration in the countries of origin by entering into close partnerships and working to benefit the people who live there.

How do you keep track of the topic along the ­value chain?

In product development, we use the raw materials as efficiently as possible. We always search for new ways in the spirit of the circular economy to, for example, use waste products from our own production for different divisions and product lines (See “Vegetable diversity”). Furthermore, we use sidestreams from other production processes and turn them into valuable materials (See “Everything flows”). Or we use our own proprietary technologies that generate added value where there was previously none (See „Creating added value“).

How well does Symrise know the environmental impacts of its products?

We developed a product sustainability scorecard for our 200 most important products. We also apply the production methods of Green Chemistry to them. This means we can determine the ideal production method to be as sustainable as possible.

For us, sustainability is part of our DNA and has become an integral component of our strategy.Bernhard Kott, CSO

In what way do the stakeholders of Symrise ­influence this development?

The manufacturers of consumer goods that we supply all over the world have focused on sustainability for some years now. The consumers demand it and politicians enact laws – and reason also shows that climate change will not be stopped otherwise. From the very beginning, we enter into close partner­ships with our customers in order to find cooperation models that allow us to work in both a sustainable and profitable manner. Together with NGOs, we have implemented projects around the world that allow us to optimize cultivation methods, train farmers, diversify and improve their income and thus protect biodiversity. These blueprints work very well and should be expanded to other projects. Because of that and also due to our activities at our sites, we have again been awarded the highest score by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) in all three audited areas – “Climate change,” “Forests” and “Water protection.” This was only achieved by 14 out of more than 13,000 companies worldwide. We are the only one in Germany.

You mention the customers, but doesn’t the financial market also exert considerable pressure?

Indeed, in a few years there will only be a few capital measures that don’t take the sustainability factor into account. Last year, we received a € 500 million revolving credit line that incorporates our sustainability commitments. We defined three ­indicators that we must fulfill here: First of all, we want to increase our eco-efficiency by 63 % by 2025 compared to 2016, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions in relation to the value added. Secondly, we also want to obtain all of our strategic biological raw materials sustainably by 2025 and, thirdly, we want to increase the efficiency of water consumption at all production sites in arid regions such as Mexico, India and Egypt. If we achieve that, the interest of the loan will be reduced and, if we don’t, it will be increased. Regardless of who pays more in the end, the sum will be donated to the “Save the Children” organization. Incidentally: The sustainability objectives are also embedded in Executive Board remuneration.

What structures have you built to achieve the sustainability objectives?  

In addition to Dr. Heinz-Jürgen Bertram (Chief Executive Officer 2019 to March 2024) and myself, who determine the strategic direction to a large extent, our Sustainability Board includes sustainability specialists from all business units – including Human Resources, Communications, Investor Relations and the individual divisions. We are joined by a network of over 150 sustainability ambassadors based all over the world. I find it very impressive that their involvement takes place exclusively in their free time. They start their own initiatives in which they themselves get involved.

What is their aim?  

An example is the Sustainable Living Space in Brazil, which was founded by some of our employees. It offers children a space to learn about environmental topics and it is also a place that employees can use (See “A commitment to sus­tainability”). Another very new development is that we will have our first sustainability ambassadors among our trainees this year. We promote this initiative and look forward to many exciting ideas – especially those that can make a huge difference, like our new way to deal with plastic. In 2020, we largely banned disposable plastic products, and we want to recycle more than 95 % of the plastic we use and introduce sustainable packaging materials across the Group by 2025. In order to achieve that, we established a cross-functional team last year.

We were the first company in the industry to commit to the Science Based Targets, meaning science-based and also approved targets for our climate protection activities.Bernhard Kott, CSO

You mention teams, and one of the goals here is to create more diversity. How do you plan to achieve that?

For us, it is very clear that diversity – of gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, ethnic background, religion and world view – is important and must be promoted. In the future, we want to create more diverse groups and more positions for people with disabilities and continue to deal with the topic that has received the most public attention: the advancement of women. By 2025, the share of women at the first level of management should be 30 %, and 45 % at the second level.

In the previous year, you launched the new Symsafe occupational safety campaign. Why is that necessary?

When it comes to occupational safety, there is room for improvement at Symrise. In 2021, we recorded a MAQ value of 3.8, which equals the number of work accidents with at least one lost day per million work hours. Our target is less than 1.5. In Germany alone, we recorded 270 accidents. Luckily, they were mostly accidents such as stumbling, falling or cutting. But any accident could end with serious or permanent injuries. For us as a company, that is unacceptable – our employees should be able to return home as healthy as when they ­arrived to work.

Why are the numbers so high?

It is due to a combination of factors. One of them certainly is our rapid growth dynamic, in the wake of which we opened new production facilities or, in some cases, had to work on weekends or special shifts. It also has to do with individual behavior, lack of attention or the typical attitude of “I’ll be fine.” Symsafe therefore focuses on finding ways for us and employees to identify and avoid risks, be more attentive, share knowledge and introduce control mechanisms in many more areas.


By 2025, Symrise wants to increase the eco-efficiency of its greenhouse gas emissions by 63 % compared to 2016 in terms of value added.

In conclusion – what are your goals? Do they still include becoming climate-positive starting in 2030?

We were the first company in the industry to commit to the Science Based Targets, meaning ­science-based and also approved targets for our climate protection activities. They remain in place ­despite our growth and the fact that our progress in relation to CO2 emissions has seen some slight setbacks due to acquisitions. Starting in 2022, we will also set clear requirements for our suppliers and sub-suppliers relating to upstream emissions. That way, we will have a more exact picture of our value chain. Always with a firm grasp on our goal: climate-­positive operations as early as 2030.