Roche CEO Severin Schwan talks about our long history in sustainability and the state of the human race.

I am pleased that the topic is really gathering momentum now. After all, the question of how we tackle climate change will ultimately decide our future. Now that young people are devoting so much attention to the topic, politicians and businesses have to react – and that’s a great thing.

It is part of our history. Just think of Luc Hoffmann, who invested all his energies and a lot of money in environmental protection back in the 1950s, at a time when hardly anyone was aware of the issue. Sustainability was vital to Roche before the term had even been coined.

I think the key is that we do something. Our philosophy is actions rather than words. Others buy their way out with CO2 certificates, but that can't be a lasting solution. It reminds me of the medieval practice of indulgence trading. We are reducing our emissions percent by percent, year after year, and we are doing so faster than the climate protocol stipulates.

If I’m totally honest, the main reason I cycle to work is because the cycle paths in Basel are very good and driving takes just as long, if not longer. And a bit of exercise doesn’t do me any harm (he laughs). Environmentally speaking, this is just a symbolic contribution—but sometimes a symbolic gesture is what is required. I can do a lot more to mitigate climate change via targeted programmes, however. One example is our internal K6 directive, with which we have gradually eliminated halogenated refrigerants and other substances that harm the ozone layer or the climate in recent years.

When the pressure becomes great enough, humans have always managed to take suitable countermeasures. This is evident in individual areas, such as with regard to the hole in the ozone layer. In the 1980s it had reached a critical level, with cancer rates rising demonstrably. Humankind reacted by banning the harmful substances, and the hole in the ozone layer shrank.

That’s true, but I believe the current debate about climate change shows that we have started to do something about it. These are the first steps. I am confident that humanity will manage to overcome the crisis. However, a major disaster will probably have to occur before people really react. When did you personally last choose not to fly on holiday because of the CO2 emissions?

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