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False signals: Lufthansa is reshaping its Executive Board – and cutting the position for brand management and sustainability in the process. In view of the accelerating climate crisis, shouldn’t a globally operating company with several airlines be much more active in driving forward the transformation towards greater environmental protection?

Comment by Thomas Wagner

Photo: Lufthansa Media Lounge

“In line with our mission statement of connecting people, cultures and economies in a sustainable way, we want to continue to limit the environmental impact of flying and continue to play a leading role in our industry in the future. Our climate protection targets are correspondingly ambitious: We are aiming for a neutral CO2 balance by 2050 and want to halve our net CO2 emissions by 2030 compared to 2019 through reduction and compensation measures,” says CEO Carsten Spohr in the foreword to the Lufthansa Group’s sustainability balance sheet for 2022.

Board reorganisation with consequences

Companies face global competition and are under constant pressure to change. This is particularly true for the aviation industry. While economic threats had to be averted during the coronavirus pandemic, a far-reaching ecological transformation is still in its infancy. A few days ago, news broke that Lufthansa was reorganising its Executive Board. Fair enough. According to unanimous reports, it had been clear for more than a year that two of the six board members would be leaving the company in 2024. Even if many reports are surprised that four out of six members of the management board are now being replaced and the Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Karl-Ludwig Kley, praises the changes as a liberating move and the start of a new management culture – the far-reaching reshaping raises further questions.

Photo: Lufthansa Media Lounge

Brand management and sustainability take a back seat

The new members of the Executive Board are expected – or rather asked – to do a lot. They are supposed to do nothing less than “create a kind of reinvention of Lufthansa” so that, according to the ulterior motive, one or the other of the group can recommend themselves as a successor to the current CEO Carsten Spohr, who will retire in 2028 at the latest. The platitudes offered as justification for the reorganisation – “improving quality”, “overcoming departmental silo thinking” and “reducing costs” – can hardly conceal the strategic and substantive shifts resulting from the new management structure – particularly in the areas of brand management and sustainability. Regardless of how successful or improvable the work of the previous Board member for brand management and sustainability is, the new distribution of work in the future Management Board is problematic.

Sustainability strengthens the brand

When it comes to successful brand management, there is currently a lot of talk about “purpose”. Which shows that times have changed. Managing a brand purposefully and constantly developing its profile in no way contradicts a greater commitment to sustainability. On the contrary. Only those who can make it plausible that they are actively pursuing the path to more environmentally friendly flying and not just “greenwashing” will also strengthen the brand. Therefore, where a transformation is sought, sustainability should be understood primarily as its purpose. Those who are not serious about environmentally friendly and responsible business practices and do not actually want change will perhaps win over customers in the short term but will hardly be able to survive in the long term. Anyone who agrees with this must conclude that what needs to be anchored in the Executive Board of a company like the Lufthansa Group (with all its airlines and business units) is a position for transformation processes. To put it bluntly, you could also say that a transformation designer is needed who knows all the processes and process chains that need to be altered, knows where to start and how changes can be implemented in various areas. This ranges from purchasing and the use of materials to the reduction of disposable tableware and waste management, from the replacement of conventional materials with biodegradable substances to catering and alternative aircraft engines. To achieve all of this, it would also be beneficial if it were possible to promote a community spirit within the company that supports the whole and makes it in everyone’s interest.

Committing the brand to sustainability

The fact that the Supervisory Board of the Lufthansa Group has apparently neither made such considerations nor taken them into account in the current reshaping of the Executive Board will hardly, as the Chairman of the Supervisory Board Karl-Ludwig Kley has put it, provide new impetus in the company. On the contrary. It sends out the wrong signals. Committing the brand to sustainability even more consistently than before would not only point to the future, it would actually herald the next phase of the company’s development. If the signs of the times are not deceptive, such a step would not even require any particular courage. The fact that the Supervisory Board would like to see “more team spirit” on the Executive Board will not be able to compensate for the outstanding commitment to the brand and many sustainable solutions. If you really want change, you should also anchor this in the Executive Board – and act accordingly. This would certainly strengthen the brand more than declarations of intent and marketing-driven offers such as “Green Fares”.

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