“The average customer only looks at the price”

Can a high quota of women and good environmental standards be expressed in euros in the annual report? SAP manager Bildmayer says: Yes! – and makes suggestions as to what else a price tag should show.

Not to be overlooked: price tags at Lidl

Mr. Bildmayer, the “Quarta Vista” project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Labor to find rules for sustainable balance sheets. Why is that even necessary?

The core of our current accounting is very old; the Venetians already calculated similarly. The new balance sheet has been expanded, it contains more than just the hard, pure business figures. In future, we want to record in a balance sheet what we do, good and bad, for sustainability, society and knowledge. And not at the back of page 120 in the sustainability report, but at the front, directly in the key financial figures.

What should change?

So far, investments in sustainability have only made an impact on the expense side. For example, if you are sent on a training course, the company receives an invoice for 3,000 euros, and that’s it. So far, it is not stated anywhere that you will come back a bit more knowledgeable and motivated and have thus become more valuable to the company. The company should be able to credit itself with this added value on the credit side in the classic financial part – and write it off over time, because knowledge and motivation expire over the years.

How is that supposed to work concretely?

Not only do we need rules for how to write off a machine over the years, we also need rules for attribution. We should create a catalog of things for which I can positively credit myself with a value on my balance sheet. However, this will never happen without conflict.

What do you mean by that?

For example, if you sell a hammer that was locally manufactured here in Germany, then maybe three people will make money from it: the producer, the supplier and the seller. If you have the same hammer made in Asia, there will be a lot more manual labor there and a lot more people will make money from it. That makes more people happy. At the same time, however, the hammer’s CO2 footprint is huge, which is bad.

The conflict of goals is clear. But how do you want to show that in a balance sheet in euros and cents?

The CO2 price has already been set, which will be 25 euros per ton from January. We are still working on how to better illustrate the value of human work.

Does a worker in Germany count more than a worker in Bangladesh?

We shouldn’t do that, otherwise we’ll play entire societies off against each other.

Then some employers will relocate thousands of jobs to low-wage countries in order to smooth out their balance sheet.

We still have to work on that too. But that’s exactly what our project is about: We have to think of such opportunities and fill the loopholes for windy traders.

When do you want to be finished?

Emotionally I would like to be finished tomorrow. But it will probably take another ten years. Such accounting must also be rolled out across Europe. It would make no sense at all to introduce them only in Germany.

Many EU countries have had major economic problems since the Corona crisis at the latest. Do those responsible in these countries want to know something about sustainable accounting at the moment?

There is already a certain information gap in the EU.

In other words: the Eastern Europeans don’t want to know anything about it.

There are great people in these countries and there are always skeptics as well. But it doesn’t help. Someone actually has to do the Pentecost and go ahead. If we just keep saying “you have to”, nothing happens.

SAP manager Reiner Bildmayer heads the sustainability project “Quarta Vista”.
SAP manager Reiner Bildmayer heads the sustainability project “Quarta Vista”.: Image: SAP

Let us assume that a company only makes profit under the new rules because it credits itself with social and ecological effects. Then at some point, despite a positive balance sheet, it will be broke.

This is purely mathematically possible. But we want to incorporate a corrective into the new accounting: If this company is doing badly, it will have to lay off employees. That then has a negative impact. This company then slips into the red even under the new rules.

Assuming a company increases the proportion of women, but at the same time consumes more electricity: How can that be offset against each other?

The key question is: What is important to me as a company? After that you have to steer.

Then those who already have a high quota of women will weight them heavily.

Right. That is why politicians have to set a few guard rails within which companies can operate. And something else has to change: we need more transparency. The average customer currently only looks at the price and nothing else. But if you could simply show him on the price tag: There is so much child labor in this product and it was produced in such an environmentally harmful manner, then something would change.