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TAG overview

All eyes on sustainability

All eyes on
sustainability

What we’re doing today to ensure a better tomorrow

Values such as courage, respect, responsibility, and transparency have defined our entrepreneurial actions for generations. We aim to use science and technology as a force for good to solve many of humanity's most pressing challenges. Our new sustainability strategy sets us on this path.

Sustainability is a vital element of our business and a responsibility we want to fulfill every day. Through our innovation power, we strive to create long-term value for society: By fostering human progress for more than one billion people, achieving climate neutrality by 2040 and reducing our resource consumption.

Belén Garijo
Vice Chair of the Executive Board and Deputy CEO of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany

No longer simply a trend

Although the term sustainability did not exist 350 years ago, responsible use of resources and social responsibility towards our employees have always played a key role for us. Over the years, societal values have changed and so too have the needs of our customers. This is precisely what has given great impetus to our sustainability aspirations. The understanding of sustainability has changed with the times:

50 years ago:

sustainability
is coined as a term

Sustainability principles were formulated for the first time at the start of the 18th century. However, the buzzword “sustainability” didn’t emerge until the 1970s and 1980s. Companies started to pay attention to environmental and occupational safety aspects. But strategically, they had not yet come to grips with the topic.

20 to 30 years ago:

lack of sustainability
is a risk

Environmental accidents received media attention, thus calling the public to action. Companies found out that they risked damaging their reputations by ignoring sustainability.

Today:

sustainability
is a must

Climate change, resource scarcity, global supply chains – the challenges facing society and companies are growing. Sustainable action has proved to be necessary and calls for holistic thinking to ensure that everyone can look forward to a future worth living.

Tomorrow:

sustainability
is an opportunity

Technology and innovation provide solutions to numerous challenges associated with sustainability. Companies recognize the necessity and potential of both relying on a successful business model and contributing to society. We want to achieve human progress though our business activities. And we want to prevent our actions from generating subsequent costs for society. To do this, we rely on a uniform approach throughout our entire value chain.

Our response to the challenges of tomorrow

How we prepare for the future

For us, scientific research and new technologies are crucial for overcoming global challenges. With our medicines, we help people either to become healthy or to better manage a disease. However, in many places, people do not have sufficient access to healthcare. That’s why we are working to provide easier access to health solutions. Our semiconductor and display materials drive digitization forward and open up new opportunities. And with our Life Science solutions, we enable life-changing research and provide scientists with the latest tools. At the same time, we achieve the optimum balance between ecological, social, ethical, and economic aspects.

Looking into the crystal ball: The world in 2040

No one can predict the future. How will global warming impact our social interactions? How will demographic and technological change shape the world? What will the supply chains of tomorrow look like? The fact is we live in a world that's becoming increasingly complex. Environmental, economic and social issues are all inextricably interlinked. How can we manage this complexity as a company and best prepare ourselves for the future?

We took an unusual approach to addressing these issues by forming a large, interdisciplinary team to imagine what life might look like in 2040. Rather than yielding conventional scenarios, this analysis resulted in four potential extreme versions of the world of tomorrow. It showed us what the fundamental risks and opportunities could be going forward and helped us develop a sustainability strategy that will address the challenges of tomorrow.

...resources became scarce?

World dried out (Graphic)

As long as water is coming out of the tap, we have no reason to worry. And as long as grocery store shelves are stocked with food, we will benefit from having options. But what would happen in a world that is defined by scarcity?

If people have dwindling access to vital resources in the future, each country will keep the limited resources and goods that they do have for themselves. Global trade will decline significantly. The result? Black markets and corruption thrive; bartering becomes commonplace. The gap between rich and poor widens further. However, this seemingly apocalyptic scenario could also represent an opportunity for a truly new beginning. Being forced to make do with what’s locally available transforms our way of life. Innovations are based on recycling and reusing materials. Local production booms. Healthcare is targeted to local needs.

In this scenario, sustainability therefore means ensuring survival.

... a new “Cold War” broke out?

Boxing gloves in front of the World (Graphic)

Imagine a world in which powerful, competing blocs control world trade. Tensions mean that international cooperation no longer functions, even when it comes to challenges requiring joint solutions, such as climate change. As global commerce declines further and further, the nation-state and its institutions play an increasingly important role, which has a positive impact on the local economy.

In this scenario, national governments are forced to find tailored solutions that provide their people with access to education and jobs. Social, organizational and technological innovations are in demand. The decline in international trade also reduces global travel, thus stemming the spread of disease.

In this scenario, sustainability therefore means ensuring quality of life for your own citizens.

... technology dictated our lives?

Electronics and figure in fron of the World (Graphic)

What if you were awoken from a deep sleep every morning at 6 a.m. by the gentle vibration of a microchip in your ear? This would mean living in a world where science and technology dictate our existence – not only to improve the human species, but also to solve the most urgent issues facing humanity.

This world is racing to develop the best technologies. Technological innovations are often viewed as a panacea, without anyone considering the ethical implications, data privacy issues or subsequent risks. This emboldens scientists to develop trailblazing applications for society and the environment; however, these have both positive and negative consequences for humanity and the natural world. The advances benefit primarily young, educated and affluent individuals. Others are left behind.

In this scenario, sustainability therefore means finding technological solutions for every problem, but not for every person.

... companies had the final say in everything?

Money and buildings in front of the World (Graphic)

What would our world look like if people continued to lose faith in the ability of political institutions to solve the problems facing humanity – and then companies stepped in to fill the vacuum?

Large companies join forces in global networks and collaborate to create solutions for a sustainable future. In this world, global trade is underpinned by capital investment and guided by a responsibly managed financial system in which environmental and social factors are given priority. Renewable energies prevail; true sustainability is required across all processes and product lines.

The flip side of the coin? Global enterprises have amassed too much power; political values and fundamental individual rights are increasingly being jeopardized. Even though numerous sustainability challenges are solved, social inequality is on the rise.

In this scenario, sustainability therefore means more power for future-oriented companies, but less democracy for people.

What the workshop participants think:

Jump straight to the topic:

Our new Sustainability strategy

Climate impact mitigation, resource scarcity and lack of access to medicine: These are the major challenges facing the global community – and our company. Our solution: In 2030, we will achieve human progress for more than one billion people through sustainable science and technology. Does this sound impossible? We don’t think so! After all, that is one of the three new strategic Sustainability goals that we formulated in 2020 and embedded in our corporate strategy.

Dedicated to human progress

In 2030, we will achieve human progress for more than one billion people through sustainable science and technology.

Our focus areas


Sustainable innovations and technology for our customers


Impact of our technologies and products on health and well-being

Creating sustainable value chains

By 2030, we will integrate sustainability into all our value chains.

Our focus areas


Sustainability culture and values


Sustainable and transparent supply chain


Securing our social license to operate in all regions

Reducing our ecological footprint

By 2040, we will achieve climate neutrality and reduce our resource consumption.

Our focus areas


Climate change and emissions


Water and resource intensity

We make sustainability measurable

How do we know how sustainable our products, technologies or business activities really are – and where do we need to start in order to improve? To answer these questions, we apply our “Sustainable Business Value” method. We have developed this tool to assess both the positive and negative impacts of our activities on society. We examine seven aspects along the entire value chain: environment and sustainability, value creation (economic value), consumer health and wellbeing, digitization and data protection, values and ethics, governance, and social engagement.

Find out more SBV Tool (Graphic)

Sustainable Development Goals

Through our new Sustainability strategy, we are supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. These Sustainable Development Goals call on humanity to respect the limits of our planet and create a world where prosperity and peace are possible for all. Our aim is for our business activities to create added value that is both measurable and makes a recognizable contribution to society. Our focus is on the SDGs on which we have the strongest influence within the scope of our entrepreneurial activities.

find out more

The SDGs sound very ambitious. How is it determined if and when they are achieved?

A

Every two years, a global conference is held at which UN member states democratically vote on whether or not a goal has been achieved.

B

The achievement of the 17 goals and their 169 targets is measured on the basis of more than 230 specific indicators. These are continuously being expanded and developed further.

C

Scenario workshops are used to determine whether the SDGs have been achieved. At these workshops, an expert committee makes forecasts and recommendations based on social trends.

The United Nations Statistical Commission was mandated to develop globally applicable indicators for the targets in cooperation with the national statistics offices. In Germany, the Federal Statistics Office (Destatis) is in charge of coordinating, collecting and publishing these data in order to document Germany’s progress regarding the SDGs.

What matters to us

By announcing our new Sustainability strategy, we took a big step forward in 2020. At the same time, we are concerned with many different issues – first and foremost the Covid-19 pandemic, which is challenging and putting us to the test. We are convinced that we have learned a lot and that this will strengthen us for the future.

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Information

The current Sustainability Report 2021 can be found here.