Economy & Politics

The transformation of Fischer dowels – green instead of gray

Castor oil instead of petroleum: Half of green dowels are made of renewable material
Castor oil instead of petroleum: Half of green dowels are made of renewable materialChristina Stohn

When Marc-Sven Mengis is asked to explain how sustainability works for them in the Black Forest, he pulls a screw out of his pocket. The managing director of Fischerwerke, 41, tall, short, black hair, long drawn Swabian Ä on the tongue, balances the screw between thumb and forefinger. It is a few centimeters long, a few grams and looks like, well, a standard screw. Is that the secret of sustainability?

“In the crowd, yes,” says Mengis. And explains the highlight: The shaft, the screw core under the thread, has been narrowed from 3.6 to 3.2 millimeters. Sounds insignificant, but means for the large producer Fischer a material saving of 43 tons a year – and besides a cost reduction of exactly 222,600 euros. Mengis smiles. This is how his facial expression says sustainability in the Black Forest.

The district of Tumlingen of the 6000-inhabitant community of Waldachtal may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of responsible business in the sense of the ESG criteria – the English abbreviation stands for environment, social and corporate management (Governance). But the traditional fishing factories, which have been located here since 1948, with 5200 employees, branches in 35 countries and most recently EUR 864 million in annual sales, were awarded the German Sustainability Award for large companies for their initiatives in the ESG area last year.

The example with the screw also makes it clear that here in the Swabian province you have a slightly different view of sustainable management than in the start-up world of the metropolises. “Sustainability is not an end in itself,” says Mengis. “We are not a non-profit organization, but an industrial company that is committed to making a profit.” It’s about growth, securing jobs, so sustainability at a company like Fischerwerke can never be limited to ecological factors . In other words, you can only afford green business at Fischer because sustainability – as in the example with the screw – goes hand in hand with material and energy efficiency, which means cost savings.

Just don’t waste anything

Managing Director Marc-Sven Mengis has been with Fischer
Managing Director Marc-Sven Mengis has been with Fischer for more than 20 years (Photo: C. Stohn)

A rather atypical example are the new green dowels, the colors of which embody Fischer’s sustainability focus most symbolically. For decades, Fischer dowels were gray because this was decided by the company founder and dowel developer Artur Fischer in 1958. Since 2014, however, Fischer has been selling green dowel variants which, depending on the version, consist of 50 to 85 percent renewable raw materials, for example sebacic acid, obtained from the seeds of the tropical castor plant. The green dowels, whose share of the total business is not specified at Fischer, are more expensive to manufacture and, according to Mengis, have a lower margin. Here, the fishermen’s factories let the ecological economy cost something.

As he passes, Mengis sticks his hand into the machine’s output compartment and takes out a mold with twelve green dowels. “Are still a little hot,” he says. Around eleven million dowels and 400,000 screws are produced every day at the Tumlingen site alone. It is these huge production volumes that give Mengis scope for ecological and economic improvements.

To ensure that the potential for this is constantly checked, there are partition walls all over the production hall, on which employees outline production processes, record ideas for changes and graphically represent what can be saved: material, energy, time. While in the past the machine oil that was collected in oil sumps under the machines was simply disposed of, today it is cleaned and reused. Cost reduction compared to the old method: around 10,000 euros per year.

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