WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WEST VIRGINIA, US — Increasingly challenging sustainability requirements facing industries including flour milling may be transformed into opportunities if innovative solutions are introduced and embraced, said Stefan Scheiber, chief executive officer of Bühler Group, Uzwil, Switzerland.

The topic of sustainability and what it means for Bühler, milling and the food industry represented the core of a presentation by Scheiber Oct. 7 at the annual meeting of the North American Millers’ Association at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs.

He began discussion of the topic by referencing a 2021 law passed in the European Union to cut carbon emissions 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels. Since then, thousands of companies have agreed to adapt to these regulations, he said.

“With that comes commitments and reporting, etcetera, etcetera, which are becoming very dominant in influencing the way businesses behave,” Scheiber said.

While commitments were made far into the future, these “far in the future times get shorter and shorter,” he said, noting that 2025 is just around the corner and 2030 is “not too far away anymore.”

“What I’m saying is it is going to get tougher and tougher, and people and stakeholders will hold these companies responsible to their commitments and whether actually they have been achieved or not,” Scheiber said.

Being responsive to the range of a company’s stakeholders, from customers and employees to activists, will be necessary for businesses to be resilient in the future, he said.

With many of its customers committing to goals associated with the European “green deal,” Bühler must come up with corresponding solutions, Scheiber said.

“Bühler, in the tiny little country of Switzerland, which is not in the European Union by the way, but it is so involved in Europe, often takes on the same regulation as the European Union,” he said. “The facts are very difficult. Switzerland is a tiny country of 9 million people, against 400 million people in the European Union.”

While Bühler may be headquartered in a small country, the company’s global impact is considerable, Scheiber said. Its customers provide food for about 2 billion people on any given day, he added.

In responding to the changing sustainability landscape, Bühler is pursuing a balanced approach that allows economic success while also addressing “the human aspects in a responsible way,” he said.

“We have to do it,” Scheiber said. “We have been doing it and are proud to do that in a company that is 163 years old and has been doing things in a very responsible way since quite a long time.”

Attributing Bühler’s longevity to innovation, Scheiber noted that the company’s values and purpose include “constantly pushing to innovate for a better world.”

“I am convinced the future success of businesses, particularly technology businesses like ours, has to be innovation,” he said. “Many of the global challenges I described before can turn into opportunities if we come in with new solutions, with innovations.”

More specifically in 2023, Scheiber said the “power of digitalization,” integrated into the “physical world in an ideal way” will yield many solutions.

“I am a believer in innovation,” he said. “I am a believer in technology. I am a believer in a good future. I am not one of these doomsayers out of Europe painting a black picture. We need food. We need grain. We need solutions for the future, and that is the spirit of the company I want to represent and will lead to successes in the marketplace.”

Tying this view to his immediate audience, Scheiber said milling has been and will remain the largest business of Bühler, adding that the company is committed to continued investment in the sector.

He continued, “What can we do to support you in the context of your customers having sustainability commitments? What does it mean for us as a company. What does it mean for you as a company? How can we turn this into something that might add value to you, your businesses and your industries. Many of your large customers have clear commitments and they need answers from anyone who supplies into their value chains.”

To begin answering these questions, Bühler and other companies need to be able to state what their starting footprint was. Scheiber said Bühler spent two years calculating the answer to this question and established 2019 as its starting point for establishing its baseline carbon footprint. At the time, the company’s Scope 1 and 2 emissions (direct emissions plus emissions associated with purchased gas and other energy) were 77,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Much higher are its scope 3 emissions (emissions a company is indirectly responsible for up and down its value chain) — 772,000 tonnes upstream from purchased goods and logistics, and 42 million tonnes downstream emissions, which include the use of Bühler products.

To reduce emissions, Bühler mills must be more efficient in the future, and the company’s own production plants are becoming more efficient, he said.

Bühler has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 60% in its own operations by 2030 and to offer solutions by 2025 to “enable 50% reduction in waste, energy and water in our customers’ value chains.”

He said the company has introduced services to help customers measure and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

In questions and answers after his presentations, discussion centered on the 1990 baseline year for the EU laws. Bühler is using 2019 as its baseline year, and Scheiber acknowledged that not all aspects of the EU legislative process appeared well considered.

 “It is part of our world, and we need to somehow find solutions,” he said. “Laws are changing. Industry has to deal with the laws. Once you commit to a target, you will be held to your commitment.”

On a hopeful note, he said productivity across the agro-food industry has improved “unbelievably.”

Asked again about the 1990 baseline, Scheiber urged the millers to focus on the big picture objectives – making and keeping commitments -- rather than fixating on a date provided to give industry time to adapt.

“The overarching idea is to become more climate effective,” he said.