INTERVIEW with Mr Jacques Lanners, Independent Director & recent CEO of Ceratizit

Did you miss our first "One hour max talk on sustainability strategy"?
Read the summary of the session below or watch the video!

Practical sustainability-policy delivery

How can directors ensure their businesses “walk the talk” on sustainability? A “one hour max talk on sustainability strategy” featured insight from Jacques Lanners, board member and recent CEO of CERATIZIT, a materials manufacturing firm that serves global clients from its Luxembourg-base. 

“Sustainability is about meeting the requirements of the present without compromising the ability of people in the future to meet their needs,” is the personal definition of sustainability that continues to influence Jacques’ work on a variety of boards. “The environment is very important, but there is more to it than this, as true sustainability features strong economic and social pillars.”

A multifaceted concept

CERATIZIT is literally and metaphorically a cutting edge company. In existence for nearly 100 years, its tungsten carbide cutting and wear protection products are sold across the globe under the protection of more than 1,000 patents. From the headquarters in Mamer, management and the board seeks to marry technology leadership, with state-of-the-art substantiality policies. After retiring as company CEO last year, Jacques is now on the firm’s board. He is also a director with the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, the Lycée Emile Metz, the engineers’ association da Vinci, and the car retailer Losch.

“We should be clear about what the need for environmental sustainability means: failure will damage our kids’ futures,” he said. “The same logic goes for social and economic sustainability. When protecting staff and communities from pollution and ensuring a strong bottom line we are investing in the present and the future. “When we looked at energy reduction, enhancing air quality, and recycling all these three factors come together,” Jacques explained. After all, healthy staff motivated by the knowledge that their company is working toward sustainability boosts productivity. 

Make small and large gains

Large innovations are important, but so are small steps that accumulate into sizeable effects. The firm has three recycling plants: in Luxembourg, Austria and in Shangtai, and they now reclaim more than 30% of their raw materials. Although this took considerable investment, long term it is good business, as raw materials account for a third of the company’s costs. As well, on the board’s suggestion, training about raw material and energy waste was ramped up. More generally there is a code of conduct to inform staff of how they should work to maximise sustainability. This includes strict policies on avoiding the use of conflict minerals and a ban on working with firms which exploit child labour. Health and safety instructions are also communicated clearly. 

Board-management dialogue

Jacques sees the need for a dialogue between board and management on ensuring that sustainability plans are in themselves sustainable. “When I was CEO, management asked the board for investment on environmental projects. Before agreeing they asked us to prove to them that this would have clear economic, social and environmental benefits,” he said. The task was to balance shorter term market performance and a long term relationships with the environment, staff and local communities.

The task is made easier as CERATIZIT is privately owned by people who understand the need to target long term success. “We could persuade them that investment in the environment is an investment in the future, and that is a big advantage for us over firms that have quarterly results to present,” Jacques explained.

Have the right mindset

Boards and management should lead by example. Sustainability is hard to measure, so the human aspect is vital. For example, Jacques believes that rush towards video meetings during the pandemic has revealed to executives how much time, money and CO2 has been wasted having an excessive number of in-person meetings

As to what lessons can be learned by his experience, he recommended ensuring a pro-sustainability outlook is ingrained in all thinking and discussions. This results in both major and small-but-significant progress. He also advocates increased education, having a local mindset when working globally, investing, and above all, looking to the long term.