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Wilfried Sihn

Managing Director Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH

What does sustainable entrepreneurship (SE) mean to you personally?

The fundamental idea of sustainable entrepreneurship is the future-oriented development of a company with the conviction that lasting success no longer depends only on the present success and financial power, but more so on long-term, immaterial factors, especially employees, corporate processes and innovations. Sustainable entrepreneurship focalises not only economic and technological dimensions, but primarily ecological, societal and social dimensions within companies and their sphere of influence.
In my experience, companies are aware of sustainability and willing to act sustainably. The main challenge is in implementing planned goals, which mostly fall victim to the day-to-day business. Often, making plans that are too ambitious stands in the way of actually putting them into practice. On the other hand, there is a large number of exemplary projects that show how companies are fulfilling their obligation to act in a forward-thinking, sustainable manner.

Which sectors do you see as role models and which have a lot of catching up to do in terms of sustainable entrepreneurship?

The automotive industry is a pioneer in terms of putting product and process innovations into action, and using alternative energy and resource-saving technologies to reduce pollution. But it is not only the vehicles, their development and production, that contribute significantly to ensuring long-term sustainability, but also user concepts like car sharing, for instance. Because sustainability demands that companies constantly evolve, all businesses are called upon to act continuously.

The focus of your work in Austria is on production and logistics management as well as visual computing. To what extent can these fields contribute towards spreading sustainable entrepreneurship?

Fraunhofer Austria’s project group for production and logistics management initiates and leads a number of company-specific and public research projects that ensure sustainability in production and logistics. The potential results of these projects include increasing efficiency in the use of resources while maintaining the same level of value creation, increasing flexibility and versatility for the fulfilment of regional, short-, medium- and long-term customer demands, and providing interdisciplinary further education programmes for staff in manufacturing enterprises.
Currently, Fraunhofer’s Production project group is working on the E3 Factory, a joint project in which a factory is planned keeping CO2 neutrality, energy efficiency and ergonomics in mind.
The i-plan (integrated production and logistics planning) project developed a solution for the coordinated planning of production and logistics processes, in order to ensure the long-term optimisation of the production programme in terms of personnel and materials.
The LOPEC research project aims to create a standard for quality assurance in further education with regard to the topic of lean logistics. In particular, skilled workers from the production industry will be supported in their lifelong learning, with the aim of promoting their qualification profiles and their personal excellence.
The latest research project of Fraunhofer Austria concerned with Sustainable Surface Transport aims to develop an innovative inland navigation vessel that will represent the state of the art in terms of transport efficiency, environmental impact, propulsion and fuel concept as well as energy generation and distribution. Ten European research partners are involved and the project will span 30 months.

Politics, industry, society – who should be the driving force for the development of sustainable entrepreneurship?

Everyone is responsible for sustainable entrepreneurship. But the public sector has the particular responsibility to be a role model for companies and consumers. For instance, not only technical and economic aspects should be taken into account in public tenders, but also the compliance with social standards and environmental criteria.

Which role can or should the EU or Europe play in further developing sustainable entrepreneurship?

The EU plays a key role in initiating and realising sustainable developments in order to prepare Europe for the challenges of today and tomorrow. But the EU must not only make it its goal to take advantage of potentials within specific countries of Europe, but must act globally instead of Europe-wide.

The Club of sustainable entrepreneurs – Verein für nachhaltiges Wirtschaften showcases exceptional projects in the area of sustainability with its sea. What do you think of this initiative?

Every year, the organisers and participants of the sea contribute towards making the words ‘sustainability’, ‘innovation’ and ‘responsibility’ more tangible and comprehensible. The presentation of the award promotes the perception of these future-oriented topics and motivates international industrial firms and SMEs to behave appropriately. The mix of private and state-run organisations among the participants forms the basis for a wide cooperation and for the communication and the spheres of action and goals of the award.

What are the great advantages of a partnership with the sea, in your view?

The sea offers a future-oriented, innovative platform for the exchange of information and experiences regarding the topic of future viability in a corporate context and serves as a trigger for new ideas and sustainable thinking. The sea initiates cooperations for the use of synergetic potentials that benefit the introduction of projects for the promotion of sustainable entrepreneurship.

And finally, a personal question: Which is the most memorable SE project you’ve ever heard of – and why?

The winner in the Best Idea category of the sea 2012 stuck in my mind. RouteRank is an innovative software that allows people to find the fastest and cheapest way to get from A to B, taking various modes of transport into consideration. From a business perspective, an expansion of this solution would hold great potential for the optimisation of the external logistics (transport routes or supply and delivery routes) of local companies with regard to ecological and cost-efficient aspects.

The person

Professor Wilfried Sihn has been active in the field of applied research and consulting services for more than 25 years, and has been involved in more than 300 industrial projects. His areas of expertise include production management, corporate organisation, corporate logistics, factory planning, order management, life-cycle management, maintenance, simulation and business process optimisation. In 2008 he was appointed managing director of the newly founded Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH and is responsible for the Fraunhofer production and logistics management project group in Vienna.