Puma chief on linking creativity with sustainability

Q&A with Jochen Zeitz, Puma chief executive and chairman, and chief sustainability officer for the PPR group.

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Marketing Week (MW): The first Puma Creative Impact award for social documentaries was awarded this week. Why did you want to align the brand with film?

Jochen Zeitz (JZ): The mission of our brand is to be the most desirable and sustainable sports lifestyle company in the world. I believe sustainability and desirability go hand in hand. Corporations have a tremendous opportunity to create positive change and this helps our brand be more desirable. Having a positive mindset that companies can do good and not have a negative environmental footprint leads us to believe that we can channel part of our creativity towards activities outside our normal way of doing business. We believe film and documentaries in particular can have a tremendous positive impact and contribute to a positive change in consumer behaviour.

MW: Are you seeing any evidence of your environmental and social alignment making your brand more desirable to consumers?

JZ: It’s a two way process, with us communicating sustainability and the consumer being more aware of issues like climate change and resource scarcity on more of a daily basis. Consciousness is developing and people want to do something about it. We want to be at the forefront of this as a brand.

MW: Will you put out more marketing campaigns to communicate what Puma’s sustainability strategy is about?

JZ: We have our targets of reducing energy, CO2 and waste water by 25% by 2015, but when it comes to creative concepts and new products and services, we are communicating it in the various areas we have innovated. For example during the World Cup in South Africa, we ran a biodiversity campaign with some of our players such as Samuel Eto’o. We are starting a sustainability campaign for the Volvo Ocean Race in Alicante where we are promoting specific causes to save the oceans. In every campaign we do sustainability will play an integral part.

MW: Are you seeing any benefits to the business so far in terms of cost savings?

JZ: We often hear that sustainability saves money, but it’s also an investment. Right now we are in the investment phase. More sustainable products are costing the company more so we are gradually introducing them. With economies of scale prices will eventually come down.

MW: In what main ways has the Puma brand evolved since you joined in 1990 and became CEO in 1993?

JZ: When I started the Puma cat was more of a sleeping cat, sort of a ruffled up cat, not very profitable; in fact it had been losing money for eight consecutive years. It wasn’t too good looking or desirable and we have since turned it into one of the most desirable brands. We grew our business from a couple hundred million euros to probably over €3 billion by the end of this year.

MW: Puma’s first environmental balance sheet was announced this year, 18 years after you became CEO. Why has this journey been so long?

JZ: We wanted first to improve everything internally before talking about it, and for over 10 years we have been looking to improve the environmental and social components in the company throughout the entire supply chain. We did our homework over a long period and felt that it was now time to start talking about it publicly.

MW: When you were made CEO of Puma, you were the youngest CEO in Germany at that time, aged 30. Was this an early goal of yours?

JZ: It wasn’t the plan at all, I wanted to be a medical doctor and I stumbled into business by accident. I obviously then wanted to make a career in business and it didn’t take too long to make my aspirations a reality.

MW: You have an ever growing philanthropic record, where does your interest in this come from?

JZ: I am a nature lover. Growing up I would spend weekends in the forest in Germany. I have travelled a lot in my life, particularly to Africa, and once you are in Africa, the landscape and wildlife get to you and you start to realise the impact our doing has on nature. When you see it on the ground you develop a sensitivity and want to do something about it.

MW: What kind of challenges have you had in educating Puma staff about the shift of the brand?

JZ: Everyone needs to understand it is part of the brand’s DNA. Even if we haven’t accomplished the things we want to yet, it’s something everyone needs to think about on a daily basis. Whatever we do, sustainability needs to be a part of the every day decision making process. It’s not something that happens overnight when people are used to a certain way of doing things. We have had to reinvent ourselves completely. The staff are beginning to embrace it because it’s something they can relate to now because they want to be part of positive change. It’s something that engages our employees on a very personal level.

MW: Puma is part of the PPR group of companies (which includes brands such as Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent), will the sustainability strategy be rolled out across all of them?

JZ: I’m the chief sustainability officer for PPR as a whole, so I am in charge of the sustainability programme for the other brands. We are supporting the individual initiatives of the various brands and contributing with our own initiatives.

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