Sustainable development, social responsibility and industrial ecology are now part of the agenda for companies which have frequently been singled out as responsible for damage inflicted on the environment, or accused of profiting from low-cost labour enduring deplorable working conditions. These were the questions raised at the working breakfast which the Société Suisse de Chronométrie (SSC) organised in Neuchâtel, on the theme of Environmental Performance and the Watch Industry. While no-one is denying the importance of these issues, not every company has integrated them into policy to the same degree.
Paolo Baracchini, director of QS&P and a lecturer at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, was first to lay it on the line: ” Let’s not pretend otherwise. A company doesn’t consider environmental management in terms of ethics or being a good corporate citizen, however welcome such an approach may be. The point is to measure a company’s impact on the environment with the aim of improving its overall performance. The environment must become a lever for increasing profitability.”
Without further ado
Speaking next, Théodore Besson, a consultant at Innobridge, asked what the purpose of sustainable development was, commenting that “the main objective is to ensure the company’s longevity, both economically and socially.” Longevity is something Audemars Piguet knows all about. Established in 1875, the company is still in the hands of its founding families, and has made environmental policy a discreet and effective hallmark of its action. For example, the Audemars Piguet Foundation, set up 21 years ago, has contributed to the conservation of forests all over the world, in a context of environmental protection and youth awareness, yet never trumpets its achievements. “All we need to know is that our action means families are enjoying a better quality of life,” commented Daniel Saugy, secretary-general of the Foundation and at the head of Audemars Piguet’s Eco-Group.
Global considerations about the environment, and particularly the company’s imprint on the idyllic landscape of La Vallée-de-Joux, first took root at the Manufacture’s Board of Directors back in 2002, when the project for new production facilities began to take shape. “You could say we worked backwards,” says Daniel Saugy. “The first criteria for a construction project are usually architectural. In our case, the first condition we laid down was that the building should comply with Minergie-Eco environmental standards. It also had to provide an environment where people and inventory could move around smoothly, and offer favourable working conditions for staff. The Manufacture des Forges grew up around these ideas.”
A question of coherency
The new site, operational since 2008 and designed to neutralise ionising radiation, uses hydroelectric power. Heating is by a wood-fired plant. All wood-derived products which the company uses have obtained the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label. Staff are given incentives to travel by electric car or to use public transport whenever possible. Procurement, particularly gold and precious stones, conforms to international criteria such as the Kimberley Process.
Next came an environmental diagnosis of the company’s pre-existing sites to bring them in line with the new Manufacture des Forges. In addition, Audemars Piguet’s future facilities in Meyrin and Le Brassus will be built to Minergie-Eco standards. Its Eco-Group currently comprises nine department heads who will shortly be joined by a specialist environmental officer. As Daniel Saugy explains, the aim is to achieve coherency. “What might have been implicit a few years ago now has to be made explicit, given that we are a company with 1,200 staff around the world. Preserve the environment, respect our staff, and delight our customers, this is what Audemars Piguet is truly about.”