Product sustainability: what does “sustainability” mean for voestalpine? 4 minutes spent reading

Product sustainability: what does “sustainability” mean for voestalpine?

Mareike Felhofer
Mareike Felhofer was responsible for employee communications in the Internal Communications team from 2013 to 2019. For the Corporate Blog, she mainly wrote articles on the topics of health & safety, corporate responsibility, environment and energy or employee campaigns and events.

On April 2, all those companies and specialist departments concerned met for the first time to discuss the topic of product sustainability. The subject will increasingly be a factor for the voestalpine Group.

ProduktnachhaltigkeitCustomers and investors, and the public as a whole, are increasingly focusing on corporate responsibility, i.e., the ecological, economic, and social performance of a company, material, or product. One important aspect of corporate responsibility is product sustainability which involves evaluating a product in terms of sustainability criteria over its entire service life.
At the political and legislative level the subject is increasingly being considered in relation to climate protection.


Broad relevance across the voestalpine Group

Initially strongly driven by the automotive industry, sustainability is becoming increasingly relevant to other industries and their suppliers. The areas covered by corporate responsibility in general, and product sustainability in particular, impact all voestalpine divisions, every company, every sector, and every function.

That creates the challenge of presenting a consistent and unified position, and coordination with all the stakeholder groups such as customers, the capital markets, politics, special interest groups, the public, and employees. The question of transparency is also addressed, determining what information and data the company should publicize, as well as protecting voestalpine’s interests with respect to regulations, laws, and standards.

The Management Board of voestalpine AG considered this subject during fall last year, and the Group will now focus more strongly on sustainability as a means of generating future opportunities for voestalpine products, segments, and technologies.

The first steps were launched with the voestalpine Product Sustainability Workshop. Representatives from all the divisions, numerous companies, specialist departments of voestalpine AG and the Steel Division—strategy, research, automotive and white goods sales, corporate responsibility, environmental management, and communication—met at the voestalpine guesthouse in Linz for a working meeting and the opportunity to talk. How does sustainability influence corporate strategy? What is the nature of the political environment? What do customers expect of us in terms of sustainability? Which activities are already ongoing, and where is there still a specific need to act?


“Strategic approach, not greenwashing”

In his opening speech as the representative of Management Board, Herbert Eibensteiner stressed that sustainability was no longer a niche topic but rather a mainstream concern, and one that influences private consumption, public perceptions, and increasingly political decision-making. The Group’s long-term success and future competitiveness will depend, amongst others, on voestalpine’s credibility in dealing with this subject. “This requires a strategic approach—greenwashing and activism have no place here.”

"That means combining the collective expertise of our experts in order to generate results which are as specific as possible: what still needs doing, what are the things we need to improve, and what needs to be intensified so that, in the end, we can create added value in the form of business areas, market potentials, products, and a better image, or define the specific demands to be made of politics."
Herbert Eibensteiner

What is product sustainability?

  • Sustainability from the perspective of ecological, economic and social aspects is increasingly a factor that is taken into consideration in business relationships between B2B companies, in public procurement procedures as well as by end customers and consumers when making purchasing decisions.
  • As a part of a number of different supply and value chains, voestalpine is increasingly required to demonstrate sustainable corporate management and a sustainable strategy for the voestalpine AG and to provide transparent and reliable information on the sustainability of its products to the company’s stakeholders, i.e. business partners, investors, non-governmental organizations, associations and public authorities.
  • The current focus of product sustainability is primarily on ecological aspects and factual information to be used in objective ecological product assessments that can be performed beyond the company boundaries.
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) takes the entire process and value chain into consideration and provides a holistic picture of the environmental impacts.
  • In concrete terms, several stakeholders have already demanded that voestalpine provide transparent and verified information, including water and carbon footprints, environmental product declarations (EPD) and LCA-data.
  • The provision of such information is already stipulated in current legislation or is required by pertinent regulations already in effect or soon to come into effect.
  • Product sustainability also pertains to product aspects related to hazardous substances, conflict minerals, compliance with the requirements of environmental laws and regulations directly applicable to steel products (e.g. REACH, RoHS, ELV) as well as specific customer requirements and certifications of our products and the production processes required for our products.

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Mareike Felhofer